Donna Rachel Edmunds
All I am saying is give peace a chance

Blinken must uphold his own pledge to pull US aid to the PA or lose credibility

Image: Hosny Salah / Pixabay

Last Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, where, at a joint press conference, Blinken pledged “more than $360 million of urgent support for the Palestinian people.”

Unfortunately for Blinken and the Biden Administration, on the same day the Head of the PA Attorney’s Office for International Legal Cooperation, Jamil Sajadiyeh, appeared on Palestine This Morning, broadcast by official PA TV, where he made the following remarks:

“About 80 meetings have been held between Palestine and the ICC, of course with the office of [ICC] General Prosecutor [Fatou Bensouda]. There are nearly 60 cases and letters that have been submitted, all of them telling about the Israeli violations. Monthly reports are being submitted to the ICC via the general prosecutor through the [PA] Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

He added: “Palestine has submitted all it can [to the ICC] in order to carry out these investigations. We are [working] according to the instructions of His Honor [PA] President [Mahmoud Abbas] and all the relevant parties.”

While many column inches have been devoted to Blinken’s announcement so far, almost none have made mention of Sajadiyah’s – an oversight which ought to be swiftly corrected as, according to US law, Sajadiyah’s comments render Blinken’s obsolete.

The reason is simple: on December 27, 2020, Congress passed Bill H.R.133 – the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. Section 7041 (k) (2) (A) (i) of that law states:

None of the funds appropriated under the heading “Economic Support Fund” in this Act may be made available for assistance for the Palestinian Authority, if after the date of enactment of this Act–

(II) the Palestinians initiate an International Criminal Court (ICC) judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.

By Sajadiyah’s own boastful admission, the Palestinians have very much been actively supporting an investigation that subjects Israeli nationals to investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians, and he isn’t the only PA official to have said so.

Three days after Blinken and Sajadiyah made their announcements, PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh posted a video to his Facebook page of an English language interview he took part in, in which he laid out the Palestinian involvement in the case.

“The ICC is a peaceful international court for criminals… and we decided to join,” he said. “The issue of ICC is something that’s now totally out of our hands, it’s just in the hands of the ICC. Of course, we did join it and we did submit files. The Israelis should know and they should take us serious (sic).”

By the PA’s own admission, therefore, and by agreement of the American Congress, the Palestinian people are ineligible to receive any funds under the Economic Support Fund.

The Biden Administration has dug this hole for themselves, as the PA’s involvement in the investigation is not new information. In fact, evidence has been in the public sphere for over a year that the PA worked alongside Bensouda to bring the case to the court – a photograph released by WAFA, the official PA news agency in February 2020 showed Shtayyeh meeting with Bensouda ahead of an official announcement that the investigation would take place, among other tip-offs.

Regardless, the ICC clause is far from the only legal impediment to Blinken’s ambition to bankroll the Palestinians.

Section 7039 of the same Consolidated Appropriations Act stipulates:

“Prior to the obligation of funds appropriated by this Act under the heading “Economic Support Fund” for assistance for the West Bank and Gaza, the Secretary of State shall take all appropriate steps to ensure that such assistance is not provided to or through any individual, private or government entity, or educational institution that the Secretary knows or has reason to believe advocates, plans, sponsors, engages in, or has engaged in, terrorist activity …”

There is an abundance of evidence demonstrating that the Palestinian Authority not only advocates for terrorism – incitement to violence is astonishingly quotidian within the PA – but sponsors it through its ‘pay for slay’ terrorist salary scheme.

Based on the Consolidated Appropriations Act alone, then, Blinken was being downright cavalier when, in a press statement on the aid package on Wednesday, he included an assurance that “The U.S. government is also firmly committed to ensuring all its assistance is provided consistent with applicable U.S. law, including the Taylor Force Act.”

But it gets worse, because the law he did mention – the Taylor Force Act – is also being contravened in order to hand the Palestinians their funding.

The Act, named for Taylor Force, a US citizen and veteran who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in Tel Aviv in March 2016, determines that “The Palestinian Authority’s practice of paying salaries to terrorists serving in Israeli prisons, as well as to the families of deceased terrorists, is an incentive to commit acts of terror.”

It therefore makes all Economic Support Fund aid contingent on the PA meeting four basic requirements:

  1. That the PA is “taking credible steps to end acts of violence against Israeli citizens and United States citizens”;
  2. That the PA has “terminated payments for acts of terrorism”;
  3. That the PA has “revoked any law, decree, regulation, or document authorizing or implementing a system of compensation for imprisoned individuals that uses the sentence or period of incarceration of an individual imprisoned for an act of terrorism to determine the level of compensation paid, or have taken comparable action that has the effect of invalidating any such law, decree, regulation, or document;
  4. That the PA is “publicly condemning such acts of violence and are taking steps to investigate or are cooperating in investigations of such acts to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

So far, the PA has done none of these things.

To the contrary, in an interview published by the Times of Israel on March 4 this year, the head of the PA funded PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs, Qadri Abu Bakr, happily admitted: “We pay around NIS 50 million ($15 million) per month in salaries.”

In fact, the PA has gone out of its way in the last few months to preserve the pay for slay scheme after it was jeopardized by an Israeli law criminalizing any person or institution involved in handling salary payments. In response to the new law, banks operating in the Palestinian territories closed accounts used to receive salary payments, leaving the PA scrambling to find alternative means of payment.

This is because the pay for slay scheme represents a central pillar of PA policy.

In January 2020, in response to President Trump’s peace plan, Abbas gave a speech in which he said: “I say to our Martyrs, our prisoners, and our wounded: Israel and the US have attempted to withhold our money that they collect for us for payment – nothing is free with them, everything is for money – so that we would stop paying the prisoners, the wounded, and the Martyrs’.”

For avoidance of all doubt, he added: “The prisoners, wounded, and Martyrs are the most sacred thing for us. By Allah that if one penny is left in our hands it will only be spent on the Martyrs, prisoners, and wounded.”

The clip has been used repeatedly over the last year on PA TV, reiterating over and over the Authority’s commitment to keep funding terror in contravention of the Taylor Force Act.

These are not the only contraventions of US law when it comes to payments to the PA – other examples include the Anti-terrorism Clarification Act, 2018, which forced the PA to choose between supporting terror or receiving US aid (it chose terror), and the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1987 which, inter alia, designated the PLO as a terror organization and consequently limits the use of US aid given to the PA.

The extraordinary thing here is that all of this information has been public knowledge for some time, which begs the question: why did Blinken pledge to ensure the aid package would be consistent with US law when clearly it won’t be?

Perhaps it is ungenerous to suggest here that Blinken is guilty of misleading the public – after all, the vast majority of the Economic Support Fund monies pledged won’t be going to the Palestinian people. President Abbas’ net worth is believed to be in excess of $100 million, whereas the average salary in the Palestinian territories is less than $1,700 a month.

But if the Biden Administration wants to retain its credibility on this issue, there is only one course of action open to Blinken: he must stand by his pledge and ensure that not a single dime of the Economic Support Fund is handed over to the Palestinians until they comply with the rules laid down by US law.

About the Author
Donna Rachel Edmunds is a former political advisor at the European Parliament, and journalist. She is now Director of Press and Public Affairs at Palestinian Media Watch.
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