Corker Hopes to Pass Taylor Force Act by August

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee indicated on Tuesday that the committee will vote on the Taylor Force Act before Congress goes on recess in August. “It’s my hope that before we go home for the August recess that we will have passed out of committee a Taylor Force-like piece of legislation” to address the issue of Palestinian Authority payments to families of terrorists, Corker said during a public hearing on the State Department’s budget featuring Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.  

Addressing the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)’s payments, Tillerson noted, “Let me assure you Senator, it was discussed directly when President Abbas made his visit with his delegation to Washington. The President (Trump) raised it and I had a much more detailed bilateral with him (Abbas) later that day. I told him: ‘You absolutely must stop making payments of family members of quote martyrs.’ I said it’s one thing to help orphans and children but when you designate the payment for that act: That has to stop.”

Tillerson faced tough questioning, especially from Democratic members of the committee, about the administration’s budgetary priorities on human rights and democracy programs. Possibly, due to the administration’s pressure, Tillerson added that the Palestinian leadership “have changed their policy. Their intent is to cease the payments to the family members of those who have committed murder or violence against others. We’ve been very clear to them that this is not acceptable to us and the American people.”

The Taylor Force Act was introduced at a February press conference by Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Tom Cotton (R-AK) and Roy Blunt (R-MI). The legislation, if passed, would cut off all U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority if Abbas continues funding stipends to Palestinian terrorist families. The measure currently has 13 co-sponsors, including Democratic Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) who recently added his name to the bill.

Named after a US military veteran who was stabbed to death in a Palestinian terror attack, the Taylor Force Act was initially introduced in 2016 but never advanced out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after failing to receive bipartisan support.

AIPAC has remained unwilling to actively lobby for Graham’s bill. AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann did not directly answer Jewish Insider’s inquiry about why the group does not publicly include the Taylor Force Act in its legislative priorities. “We strongly support the legislation’s goals and we are working with Congress to build broad bipartisan support that will require the Palestinian leadership to end these abhorrent payments,” Wittman explained. Other groups including Christians United for Israel (CUFI) have lobbied aggressively for the bill and if the measure appears to gain momentum, it is likely that J Street will oppose the bill.

Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD) told Jewish Insider in March, “I generally don’t support an approach that could jeopardize needed assistance for stability in the West Bank.”

Corker’s usage of the wording “Taylor Force Act-like piece of legislation” suggests that the top Republican Senator is interested in amending the bill and offering a softer version, as he has previously expressed concern over zeroing out all US assistance to the PA.

Turning to terrorists’ funding in Gaza, Tillerson noted, “We are working with others who are providing assistance and funding into Gaza. Much of it is to relieve the humanitarian problem. Rebuilding homes, hospitals and schools. But, there is always a lot of leakage of that money so we are working carefully with others of how you do help.” The US top diplomat added, “the Israeli government is supportive of stabilizing Gaza by providing these type of humanitarian actions. We can’t just have money leaking into the hands of those who would commit violence.”

Qatar has for many years been one of Hamas’ main financial patrons and the recent diplomatic tensions between Doha and Saudi Arabia could impact Gaza’s worsening humanitarian crisis.

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