(CNSNews.com) – The Biden administration on Monday characterized Israel’s withholding of funds from the Palestinian Authority an unhelpful unilateral step, even though the U.S. itself opposed the Palestinian action that prompted the retaliatory Israeli move.
Israel’s new government is withholding nearly $40 million in Palestinian tax revenues, saying the money will be transferred instead to a fund for Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism.
It further plans to deduct from its transfers to the P.A. an amount equal to that used by the P.A. last year for its “martyrs’ fund” – monthly stipends paid to families of Palestinians killed or injured in attacks on Israelis, or jailed for such attacks. The P.A. describes them as “welfare payments”; critics call it a “pay to slay” policy that encourages and incentivizes terrorism.
The Israeli measures, along with the revoking of a VIP travel permit for P.A. foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki, are in response to the P.A.’s push to have the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issue an advisory opinion on Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation” of territory claimed by the Palestinians.
The U.S. opposed the move, and when the U.N. General Assembly late last month voted in favor of referring the matter to the U.N.’s highest judicial body for an advisory opinion, the U.S. was one of the 26 member-states to vote “no.” (The measure passed 87-26, with 53 abstentions.)
Despite the Biden administration’s declared opposition to the ICJ referral push, State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday described the Israeli retaliatory steps as unhelpful too.
“This was a unilateral action that certainly doesn’t seem to move us closer to a negotiated two-state solution,” he said of the withholding of funds. “In fact, it seems to set us back.”
Price emphasized again that the U.S. also opposed the ICJ referral, “knowing that it could only potentially serve to increase tensions. That is exactly what has happened.”
“We discouraged publicly the Palestinians from moving forward with the ICJ opinion [request] because we didn’t want to see tensions exacerbated.”
“It is clear that these steps have served to exacerbate tensions,” he said. “This is not in the interests of a long-term negotiated solution.”
Pressed to say which specific steps he was referring to – the P.A. pushing for an ICJ opinion or Israel’s punitive withholding of funds – Price replied, “we are talking about both.”
‘Pay to slay’
The retaliatory measures were decided by Israel’s security cabinet late last week. At a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told ministers they were in response to the P.A. “advancing a radical anti-Israel decision at the U.N.”
“We have established a different government with a different policy, and everyone will see this,” he said.
Maliki, the P.A. foreign minister, told the official Voice of Palestine radio that Israel’s retaliatory steps “violate international law” and said the P.A. would seek international support for its position.
Under previously-signed Israeli-Palestinian agreements, Israel collects tax revenues on imported goods on the P.A.’s behalf. It is from these revenues that the Netanyahu government plans to withhold funds, in response to what it called the “P.A.’s decision to wage political and legal war against the State of Israel.”
Israel’s move to offset the “welfare payments” by the P.A. to families of terrorists comes amid allegations that the Biden administration is not complying with U.S. law that requires the withholding of funding to the P.A. until the administration certifies that payments to the families of convicted and dead terrorists have stopped.
The Taylor Force Act, incorporated into a spending bill signed into law by President Trump in 2018, is named for a U.S. Army veteran and Vanderbilt student who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian in Jaffa during a 2016 MBA study trip.
The family of the attacker, who was shot dead after killing Taylor Force and wounding ten other people, is a recipient of “martyrs’ fund” payments.
The Trump administration duly withheld funds from the P.A., but the Biden administration restored funding from April 2021 onwards, saying as it did so that the funding was “absolutely consistent” with the Taylor Force Act.
“As we do around the world, we provide assistance in the West Bank and Gaza through experienced and trusted independent partners on the ground, and it’s these partners who distribute directly to people in need, not through government or de facto government authorities,” Price said at the time.
However last November 38 Republican lawmakers wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing concerns about “potential violations of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Taylor Force Act.”
“In offering hundreds of millions of dollars for the purpose of economic assistance, we are concerned that these funds are tragically enabling the Palestinian Authority’s payments to terrorists and the families of terrorists who kill innocent Americans and people of Jewish descent – also commonly referred to as ‘pay-to-slay,’” they wrote.
Last month, America First Legal filed a civil lawsuit in northern Texas against President Biden and Blinken for allegedly violating the provisions of the Taylor Force Act.
The plaintiffs are Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), Stuart and Robbi Force (the parents of Taylor Force), and Sarri Singer, a U.S. citizen who survived a Palestinian bus bombing in Jerusalem in 2003 that killed 17 people.
“Joe Biden is breaking the law by allowing our tax dollars to fund terrorism in Israel, and he must be stopped,” Jackson said in a statement. “I have deep respect for my fellow plaintiffs who have been tragically and directly impacted by Pay to Slay, and I am proud to be on the same team as we hold this failed administration accountable.”
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