Could US aid to PA be cut off even without Taylor Force Act?

WASHINGTON – Since November 17, significant attention has been fixed on a 2015 Congressional law that calls for the shuttering of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) diplomatic mission following Palestinian leadership support for International Criminal Court (ICC) cases against Israelis. At the same time, a separate provision in the 2015 legislation, out of the eye of many Washington DC policy makers, could have an equally strong impact on US-Palestinian ties. Enforcing the 2015 law could have a similar outcome to the Taylor Force Act that would slash US assistance to Ramallah if the Palestinian Authority continues to pay families of terrorists.

“None of the funds appropriated under the heading ‘‘Economic Support Fund’’ in this Act may be made available for assistance for the PA if after the date of enactment of this Act… the Palestinians initiate an ICC judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such an investigation.1

On September 20, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the United Nations’ General Assembly and pushed for the ICC to pursue cases against Israel. “We have called on the International Criminal Court to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities,” he asserted.

Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) emphasized that Ramallah’s support for ICC cases should have ended the US economic assistance to the PA.

“U.S. assistance to the Palestinians should have been cut off years ago when Abu Mazen acceded to the Rome Statute and the ICC began its preliminary work on Israel,” Ros-Lehtinen told Jewish Insider. “In fact, there have been countless instances over the years in which the Palestinians have triggered numerous provisions of U.S. law that should have ceased any assistance to the West Bank and Gaza. We should have never even gotten to this point.”

“The ICC discussion continued during the Obama era and there was a decision not to enforce,” noted Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundations for Defense of Democracies (FDD). “The ICC issue has been out there, the Palestinians have been discussing it on a regular basis, making threats and we didn’t see a cut in assistance based on that.”

The 2015 law contains a waiver given to the Secretary of State that would allow aid to resume if it were in the “national security interests” of the US. “There is wiggle room in the law — both on the PLO mission and the aid — for an administration to either certify or decertify depending what it wants to do,” Lara Friedman, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace said.

Schanzer clarified that the 2015 law calling for the cutoff in assistance is a “tool to be leveraged with the Palestinians.”

Jewish Insider asked the State Department if the provision in the 2015 Congressional law regarding PA support for an ICC investigation would trigger an end to US aid. On condition of anonymity, a State Department official responded, “U.S. law includes certain restrictions on assistance to the PA. Those are separate from the provisions at issue here. We continue to provide critical assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. We continue to work closely with Congress on these programs.”

Other analysts urged caution on the applicability of the 2015 law. “Depending on the exact language used by Abbas and the exact circumstances in the ICC, one can argue that application of this provision may be premature,” said Elliott Abrams, a former senior official in the George W. Bush administration. “It seems that, as with the closing of the PLO office, the administration is seeking to delay full implementation of these provisions so as to allow time for other initiatives it may have in mind.”

A former senior advisor for Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rich Goldberg added, “To most people the legislation sounds pretty straight forward but to a State Department lawyer, there’s plenty of room to fit the language to whatever policy outcome the Secretary would like.”

However for Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, delaying the law’s enforcement in the hopes of a potential US diplomatic initiative is problematic. “I hope the Trump administration takes a tougher stance than previous administrations and takes the common sense approach by simply implementing U.S. law when it comes to the Palestinians, their ICC agenda, and their failure to live up to their obligations and commitments.”

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