US lawmakers vote to suspend aid to Palestinian Authority

US lawmakers vote to suspend aid to Palestinian Authority
US lawmakers have voted to suspend aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it ends social payments to the families of Palestinians detained or killed in conflict with Israeli.
3 min read
06 December, 2017
Israel currently detains around 6,500 Palestinians. [Getty]

US lawmakers voted on Tuesday to suspend aid to the Palestinian Authority if the government does not halt social payments to the families of Palestinians detained or killed in the conflict with Israel.

The PA makes a variety of social payments to the relatives of Palestinians detained by Israel or killed in violence, whether they were carrying out attacks or shot dead by Israeli military forces.

A dedicated fund was set up in the 1960s and estimates suggest it distributes as much as $100 million a year.

Around 35,000 families receive support from the fund. 

The US House of Representatives passed the legislation by a unanimous voice vote. 

The bill would have to clear the US Senate and be signed by President Donald Trump in order to become law.

Republican and Democratic US lawmakers alike argue that the payments incentivise violence and serve as a sticking point in the Middle East peace process.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government has long called for an end to the payments.

"The Palestinian Authority should be forced to choose between its despicable practice of paying terrorists' salaries and receiving foreign aid funded by the American taxpayer," House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement after the vote.

The Taylor Force Act is named after a US military veteran and graduate student, age 28, who was killed in a 2016 attack while he was visiting Israel. The attacker, a Palestinian, was killed by police.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce called the Palestinian policy a "perverse pay-to-slay system".

"The Palestinian Authority gives salaries to Palestinians who attack innocent people like Taylor. If the attacker dies, their family is compensated," he said.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in June that the Palestinians were preparing to end the payments, but they remain in place.

Palestinian officials have long disputed accusations that the fund encourages terrorism.

In August, chief representative of the Palestinian General Delegation to the US, Husam Zomlot, said the payments support families "who lost their breadwinners to the atrocities of the occupation, the vast majority of whom are unduly arrested or killed by Israel".

Israel currently detains some 6,500 Palestinians for a range of alleged offences and crimes, with detainees considered political prisoners in Palestinian society.

The House vote came at a crucial juncture in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump told Arab leaders on Tuesday that he will likely order a move of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. 

The announcement could come as early as Wednesday, when Trump is scheduled to deliver a speech on the issue. 

Such a move could trigger widespread protests and unrest, and imperil the president's efforts at crafting a viable Middle East peace plan.

The proposed move has been met with outrage in the Arab world and within the international community.

East Jerusalem is considered occupied Palestinian territory under international law.