Greenblatt pushed Congress to water down Taylor Force Act
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt - Photo: Reuters
Significant changes made to the updated House version of Taylor Force Act
WASHINGTON – The Trump administration’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt lobbied Congressional offices to add new exemptions to the Taylor Force Act, a senior Republican Senate aide and second Congressional staffer told Jewish Insider. On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will be voting on the legislation, which has undergone significant revisions from the Senate’s version of the bill.
“Congressional offices proactively reached out to us asking for our opinion on potential exemptions so we shared some ideas when asked. We did not lobby for this exemption,” a White House official told Jewish Insider, while declining to specifically comment on Greenblatt’s role.
The Senate version of the text contained an exemption for the East Jerusalem hospital network. Greenblatt pushed for an additional provision allowing US funding for Palestinian wastewater programs, even if those efforts were to directly benefit the Palestinian Authority. According to the text of the new House version of the bill, that was shared with Jewish Insider by a third Capitol Hill source, the measure now includes an exemption for the wastewater program.
In February, Representative Doug Lamborn (R-CO) introduced the legislation that would end all U.S. economic assistance to the P.A. until payments to Palestinian families of terrorists end.
Earlier this year, on August 2, Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Chairman Norm Coleman and Executive Director Matt Brooks warned Senators against any additional revisions to the bill that would dilute the economic penalties of the Taylor Force Act. “We are concerned about the prospect of additional changes in the markup that would weaken the bill. Accordingly, we urge you and your colleagues to reject such amendments during the mark-up.”
During the debate in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the legislation, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) proposed amending the bill to include an additional exemption for public health and sanitation programs. However, Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) disagreed and asserted that if Udall’s exceptions were added, “you basically gut the bill” and make the legislation “useless.” Although Udall’s amendment failed along party lines (11-10), his change was similar to those that the White House advocated for in the current House bill.
“The Trump administration strongly supports the Taylor Force Act, which is a consequence of Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization’s policy of paying terrorists and their families,” a State Department official explained in September. “The administration is closely following the progress of the legislation and looks forward to working with Congress as it takes its final form.”
In a July 31 conversation with Congressional interns that was leaked to Wired Magazine, senior White House advisor Jared Kushner listed the administration’s support for Palestinian water programs as one of the top administration achievements in the Middle East peace process. In September, the White House confirmed that the administration transferred an additional $20 million that was originally allocated to Egyptian economic aid to wastewater projects in the West Bank and Gaza. Last month, Greenblatt presided over a ceremony for expanding the water initiative in Jericho.
Additional changes to the House bill includes a sunset clause where the economic penalties against the PA would end five years after fiscal year 2018. The Senate version included no such end date.
The Senate Appropriations bill requires the P.A. to “revoke any law, decree, regulation or document that authorizing or implementing a system of compensation for imprisoned individuals that uses the sentence or period of incarceration of an individual to determine the level of compensation” before having the chance to obtain economic aid from the US.
However, the updated House version does not mandate that the PA “revoke” such laws. Instead, Ramallah can take “comparable action that has the effect of invalidating any such law, decree, regulation or document.” A Congressional official explained the change as “allowing them to fulfill their obligations under this bill without calling into session a Hamas-led Palestinian Legislative Council.”
Furthermore, the Senate version only demanded the PA make the necessary changes to its prisoner payment system. However, the updated House version requires that the PA, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and “any successor or affiliated organizations” undertake these reforms. While previously the PA was responsible for the stipends, it is now the PLO that makes the controversial payments.
Given the ambiguity of the cut off in funding towards any program that “directly benefits” the P.A., the House version adds a section asking the Secretary of State, no later than 15 days after the law has been enacted, to provide a list of assistance in the West Bank and Gaza that directly benefits the PA. US assistance in the Palestinian territories that does not “directly benefit” the PA would continue.
The House version also includes an additional request from the Secretary of State asking for the “definition of acts of terrorism that the Secretary” plans to use. The Congressional aide noted that there may be differences between the American and Israeli definitions of terrorism.