How Can Palestinians Be Prevented From Using American Money for Terrorism?

Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, attend the funeral of Hamas leader Mazen Faqha in Gaza city on March 25, 2017. Gunmen in the Gaza Strip had shot dead the Hamas leader on March 24, 2017, according to Iyad al-Bozum, an interior ministry spokesman in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Faqha had been released by Israel six years earlier in the 2011 prisoner swap which exchanged more than 1,000 other Palestinians for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier Hamas had detained for five years. MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty

After years of the notorious Palestinian Authority practice of paying stipends to terrorists and their families, the issue is now being legislatively targeted simultaneously by both Israel and the United States, with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holding hearings on these payments today.

It is critical for the Palestinians to understand that incentivizing and rewarding terrorism that has killed Israelis and Americans will not be tolerated, and it is vital to come up with a solution that ends these detestable payments without creating a serious deterioration in Israel's security.

One of the principles that has been embraced by the Israeli government, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israel's security establishment is that terrorism must be deterred without making the situation on the ground worse or risking a larger outbreak of violence.

What this means in practice is focusing on the Palestinian Authority's bad behavior while trying to ensure that the PA does not collapse and without punishing the Palestinian population indiscriminately.

This is the balance that the bill moving through Israel's Knesset addressing the Palestinian "martyrs fund" that is supported both by the government and the opposition attempts to strike. The legislation being considered by the US Senate should do the same.

Rather than eliminate all aid to the PA if it continues to pay terrorists and the families of terrorists killed in their efforts to harm Israelis, the Israeli bill offsets the amount of money that Israel transfers to the PA in tax revenues that it collects on the PA's behalf by the amount that goes to reward terrorism.

In doing so, it imposes a real cost on this behavior, and forces the PA to make a choice about its priorities – whether it is more important to provide basic services to the Palestinians whom it governs, or more important for the absolute worst actors in Palestinian society to benefit at the expense of ordinary and law-abiding Palestinians.

This is an approach that the American government has adopted as well. By reducing the amount of money provided to the Palestinians as a result of its rewarding of terrorism and refusing to fund the PA directly, the U.S. has taken a stand against official Palestinian incentivization of terror while continuing to fund infrastructure projects and humanitarian efforts in the West Bank and Gaza that help ordinary Palestinians.

Along with Israel, the U.S. has sought a balance between punishing the PA but doing so without bringing it to the verge of collapse, and thus making the security situation in the West Bank worse.

Nonetheless, the continued system of payments for terrorists and the families of terrorists has continued, making it evident that something more must be done. The renewed spotlight on these payments has led to the Taylor Force Act being considered now by the Senate, which would end all aid to the Palestinians so long as the martyrs fund continues to operate. This measure would send a strong message to the PA.

However, it carries significant risks. It is critical to maintain the balance between deterring terrorism and providing the Palestinians with a political horizon. Risking a humanitarian crisis in the West Bank or Gaza by ending critical infrastructure work, or defunding efforts to fight systemic PA corruption, will not harm the PA, but will instead erode Israel's security by weakening some of the factors that keep the situation in the West Bank quiet.

The economic aid that the U.S. currently provides brings with it a security benefit to Israelis, and taking steps that will further dampen the spirits of West Bank Palestinians – and even risk the PA's continued viability – will ultimately reverberate back on Israel in negative ways.

Another important principle that should be embraced by Israelis, Palestinians and the United States is that constructive, independent steps that advance toward a two-state reality is to be encouraged, while measures that pose obstacles toward achieving a two-state solution and are thereby destructive must be opposed. The Taylor Force Act falls in the "obstacles" category.

The PA must be taken to task for its flirtation with terrorism. In doing so, both Israel and the U.S. should take a smart and holistic view of Israeli security, understanding that security is not only about deterring, catching, and imprisoning terrorists, but also about making sure that the conditions that create more terrorism are stamped out.

Forcing the PA to stop incentivizing terror is one critical component of this, and it must be paired with an approach that shows ordinary Palestinians that Israel and the U.S. are committed to helping them achieve a better life irrespective of the detestable actions of their government.

Striking a balance that punishes the PA for its tacit acceptance of terrorism while maintaining a political horizon that deters Palestinians from taking up the mantle of terrorism should be the guiding principle behind any effort to deal with abhorrent encouragement to violence.

Ami Ayalon is a former director of the Israeli Security Agency Shin Bet and a principal of the Israeli non-partisan organization Blue White Future.