Senate Committee Passes Taylor Force Act

WASHINGTON – After lengthy debate and multiple amendments offered, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the Taylor Force Act on Thursday (17-4) in bipartisan fashion. Every Republican supported the bill and were joined by six Democratic Senators. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) opposed the measure. The legislation, that would dramatically reduce U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority until they cease payments to families of terrorists, will now move to a floor-wide vote at an undetermined time.

At the committee’s business meeting on Thursday morning, Senator Cory Booker expressed concern that a National Security Waiver, giving the President the ability to delay implementation, was not included in bill similar to the Jerusalem Embassy Act. However, Booker noted, “I share the bipartisan consensus about the payments being made for the terrorist acts, and I condemn that. It’s awful.”

The New Jersey lawmaker added that if the Secretary of State fails to make the certification every 180 days that the terror payments have stopped as required by the legislation, “I worry that if we don’t do the national security waiver… we are actually talking about zeroing out all humanitarian funding. That is my concern.” In 2015, Booker voted for the Iran nuclear deal and earlier this year supported an anti-settlement amendment offered by Senator Tom Udall to a bill condemning the United Nations Security Council for resolution 2334.

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) added an amendment on Thursday morning, which was approved by the committee, that places the cut off of U.S. funds in a one year escrow, allowing the Palestinian Authority to earn the money if the terror payments end and the law is overturned.

Kaine offered an additional amendment that was defeated which would have allowed Ramallah to earn back the assistance even if the law was intact. The amendment was conditioned on the terror payments ended and Ramallah taking credible steps to combat violence. The Virginia lawmaker cited the difficulties in Congress of repealing sensitive legislation.

“This bill shines a light on the very real problem of ‘Pay to Slay,’” noted Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who introduced the legislation back in February. “You can’t be a partner in peace when you are paying people to commit acts of terror. It is long past time to let the Palestinian Authority know that these practices are wholly unacceptable.”

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) offered an amendment that would allow an exception to the bill — similar to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network — for public health, food, water, and sanitation. “In traveling to the West Bank, there are very serious problems there: poverty, lots of checkpoints, and hopelessness so you kind of have the conditions for terrorism on the ground,” Udall noted while promoting his change that would boost economic conditions for Palestinians. However, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-TN) disagreed saying that if you add these exceptions, “you basically gut the bill” and make the legislation “useless.” Udall’s amendment failed along party lines (11-10).

Ambiguities remain regarding U.S. economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority. The bill states that economic assistance that “directly benefit the Palestinian Authority” would be cut. However, many are unsure about how this would impact humanitarian programs. For example, if the U.S. were to participate in a teacher training program for Palestinians who were paid by the P.A., would this be considered “directly benefiting the P.A.?” Therefore, the State Department continues to play an influential role in interpreting the implementation of the bill if enacted into law.

While AIPAC only publicly backed the legislation on Wednesday, CUFI, RJC, ZOA and the OU have been actively supporting the legislation since February. “The U.S. should stand against state sponsors of terror — not lavish them with aid. That’s why CUFI gave its full support to the Taylor Force Act in its earliest day,” David Brog CUFI’s Executive Director told Jewish Insider. While J Street is lobbying aggressively against the anti-Israel Boycott bill, the dovish organization has remained relatively quiet on the Taylor Force Act.

After the vote, the Senate clerk announced that the results were 16-5. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) was not present so she voted by proxy and it appeared to sound that she opposed the bill. However, Micah Johnson, Corker’s Communications Director, confirmed to Jewish Insider that the bill total was 17-4 with Shaheen voting for the legislation.

The bill was named after Taylor Force, a US veteran who was killed by a Palestinian terrorist during a study abroad program in Tel Aviv.

“This strong bipartisan vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today moves toward ensuring that the U.S. will not tolerate – or pay for – violence and terrorism against Israelis, Americans and others,” noted Nathan Diament, Executive Director for the OU.

At a press conference immediately following the vote, Graham emphasized, “If you are a young Palestinian, the best thing that you can do for your family in terms of income is be a terrorist, that’s sick.”

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