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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Trump is Right to Feel Suckered: To Promote Middle East Peace, Cut Aid to Palestinians

Filed under: Israel, Palestinians, Terrorism, U.S. Policy

Trump is Right to Feel Suckered: To Promote Middle East Peace, Cut Aid to Palestinians
President Donald Trump and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands as they meet, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

In one of his forthright tweets, dated Jan. 2, President Trump declared: “It’s not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing … we pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. … With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

Much of the Washington foreign policy establishment scoffed at this blunt expression of frustration at the poor returns the United States receives on certain foreign aid investments. Trump’s opinion, in their view, is unsophisticated and parochial.

But it is actually the Washington establishment that is being parochial: foreign aid isn’t an entitlement, or a gift, or charity. It is supposed to serve the national interest, and we are supposed to be able to identify something tangible we receive in return for providing it. Trump is right to ask whether U.S. aid to the Palestinians serves its intended purpose — promoting peace with Israel — and he is right to feel suckered.

What has the Palestinian Authority done with the more than $5 billion the United States has provided since the mid-1990s? Why is Palestinian state-building nonexistent? Why are the United States Agency for International Development, the United Nations, its United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other international bureaucracies acting as the de facto government of the West Bank and Gaza?

Many advocates of U.S. aid to the Palestinians believe that we are supporting Palestinian employment and civil society programs that give hope and purpose to the poor, disincentivizing them from committing the knifings, car rammings, suicide bombings and shootings that have been mainstays of Palestinian behavior toward Israelis.

But under the Palestinian Authority, by far the most successful and widespread economic support program has been the so-called “pay for slay” program: a detailed, legally codified system of payments to Palestinian terrorists and their families. The “pay for slay” bureaucracy benefits around 3 percent of the Palestinian population — but the payments amount to over 7 percent, or $350 million in 2017, of the Palestinian Authority budget.

Palestinians who have carried out terror attacks or helped terrorists are rewarded with monetary benefits, job placement, job training and health care. These are rewards enshrined in Palestinian Authority laws, which define those who carry out terrorist attacks as “the fighting sector of society” and specifically designate the payments to them as “salaries” or “compensation,” as opposed to welfare. The payments are not handouts — they are compensation for services rendered.

Unlike welfare programs, there is no means of testing for “pay to slay” recipients. The statutory purpose is to ensure that purveyors of violence and their families are rewarded with a good life as a gesture of appreciation and obligation for their willingness to carry out terrorist attacks.

The Prisoners’ Institution and the Institution for the Care of Martyrs support 36,000 families — at least 150,000 people — among a population of 4.5 million. To grasp the magnitude of this, imagine if 12 million to 14 million Americans received state-mandated compensation for violence. Viewed from another angle, more than 1 in 30 people who come in contact with a local Palestinian are receiving financial compensation for having participated in, or supported, violence against Israel.

The Palestinian Authority claims these rewards for violence are a form of welfare to support the downtrodden left without breadwinners. But a welfare system exists and has a budget of $220 million for 120,000 families, which is 40 percent less than the “pay to slay” budget, for 300 percent more people. The average family of an imprisoned terrorist receives more than five times the benefits of the average welfare recipient.

It is well known and extensively documented that Palestinian Authority and Fatah officials incite violence through state-run media and state supported clerics, and glorify terrorists through the naming of roads, schools and community centers in their “blessed” memory.

Now under pressure from the Trump administration to stop the “pay to slay” program, the Palestinian Authority says it won’t be bought by America. But the Palestinian population certainly could use America’s aid; per capita annual income is only $3,200, according to USAID, and unemployment rates are high. The best way the United States can support the Palestinian people is to require the Palestinian Authority, as a condition of receiving aid, to behave like a government that understands employment programs should not incentivize their citizens to become terrorists.

President Trump’s instincts are right, and he is right to feel suckered. U.S. aid to the Palestinians hasn’t gotten us much — and certainly not appreciation or respect. In fact, today it seems clear that foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority is part of the problem and a significant reason why peace is elusive.

President Trump should encourage the Senate to pass the Taylor Force Act, which reduces U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority because of its payments to terrorists. And he should make the shuttering of the Palestinian Authority prisoners and martyrs programs a condition for convening any peace talks.

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A version of this article appeared in The Hill, on January 19, 2018 (