WASHINGTON – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Taylor Force Act on Thursday in a bipartisan vote.
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All Republican members of the committee voted in favor of the bill, which would cut U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as it pays salaries to convicted terrorists and their families. Democratic Senators Ben Cardin of Maryland, Chris Coons of Delaware, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Senator Menendez of New Jersey and Ed Markey of Massachusetts also voted in favor of the bill.
The committee also approved an amendment proposed by Senator Kaine which would attach a one-year escrow to the bill, meaning that the money supposed to go the Palestinian Authority will be kept in a bond for one year, giving the PA an opportunity to prove that it has changed its practice of paying the terrorists and their families.
The bill also says that the State Department will have to report to Congress every 180 days on the Palestinian Authority's conduct on this issue.
AIPAC, the powerful American pro-Israel lobby, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation's largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, applauded the bill's approval later on Thursday.
"For many years, AIPAC has pressed to end this PA practice that incentivizes terrorism and sets back the pursuit of peace," AIPAC said in a statement. The organization added, however, that the move does not spell the end of "Palestinian incitement."
"The legislation does not affect U.S. funding for security cooperation, nor does it cut humanitarian programs if the U.S. government can certify that the PA is taking credible steps to end violence against Israelis and Americans," AIPAC said.
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation's largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, "applauded the Senate Foreign Relations Committee action today approving a bipartisan bill to suspend U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until it stops using the funds to reward terrorists for killing Israelis, Jews and others - as well as giving life-long stipends to the families of those imprisoned for acts of terrorism." The organization also praised the all the Republican committee members who voted for the bill, as well as naming the Democrats who voted in favor.
The vote in favor of the Taylor Force Act (S.1697), named for the Vanderbilt University graduate student and former U.S. Army officer stabbed to death in Jaffa by a Palestinian terrorist last, would make future U.S. assistance that directly benefits the PA contingent on the PA ending its 'pay-for-slay' policies. All Republicans on the committee, along with Democrats Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) Chris Coons (D-De.) and Ed Markey (D-Ma.) voted for the bill.
The chief Palestinian representative in Washington, Husam Zomlot, attacked the bill's passage and warned that the legislation will harm the peace process with Israel.
Zomlot defended the PA's practice of paying salaries to terrorists and their families and said the bill stands in the way of Ramallah's effort "to provide for the security and well-being of its people" who live under Israeli occupation.
Zomlot added that the legislation is not conducive to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' commitment to reach a peace agreement with Israel.
"The bill provides fuel for violent extremists who seek to expand into our backyard. We need Congress to help end the political violence that plagues our region and to enhance security for all by supporting a comprehensive and just peace agreement, so there will be no victims to provide for," the statement read.
The bill is named after Taylor Force, a 29-year-old U.S. citizen who was stabbed to death in an attack in Jaffa. Force, who was visiting Israel with fellow graduate students and faculty from Vanderbilt University, had survived frontline combat duties in Afghanistan and Iraq with the U.S. Army.
The legislation was first proposed in February, but over the last few weeks it has been amended to make a distinction between money that directly benefits the PA and money that supports hospitals and humanitarian projects in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The new version of the bill was presented on Tuesday.