This week, critics were given another reason to be outraged about the massive funds given by the United States and its Western allies to the Palestinian Authority. A new study from the Hebrew University revealed that one of the PA’s elementary school textbooks “teaches students to be martyrs, demonizes and denies the existence of Israel, and focuses on a ‘return’ to an exclusively Palestinian homeland.”
The textbook is the latest evidence that — contrary to former U.S. President Barack Obama’s claim that it was a force for peace — the PA has been actively fomenting hate against Israel and educating its children to oppose peace with Israel and coexistence with Jews since it was empowered by the Oslo Accords in 1993. Since then, new generations of Palestinian Arabs have been inculcated in a version of national identity that is inextricably tied to a war against Zionism.
Those who want to hold the PA and its leader Mahmoud Abbas accountable advocate withholding U.S. funds until they stop supporting terror. But they must still answer this daunting question: Will depriving the PA of the money that keeps the kleptocratic West Bank government functioning do more harm than good? While the Israeli government has been vocal in condemning incitement it has been conspicuously silent about putting teeth into those criticisms.
The reason for that is obvious. The question is not whether the PA condones and even subsidizes the behavior that makes peace an impossible dream. Rather it is whether it is a sleazy partner that neither Israel nor the West can afford to lose. Were its foreign sponsors to cease the subsidies that provide the cash that keeps it in business, Israel would be forced to assume direct control over the West Bank and do without the help of the PA’s ambivalent security services. Since no one in Jerusalem wants that to happen, the PA must be considered too big to fail.
That glorification of terrorism involves more than education. Those who take Abbas’ occasional support for the idea of peace, as proof of the PA’s good intentions can’t explain away the pensions paid by the Palestinian Authority to terrorists and their families. The PA treats terrorists as heroes as village squares and soccer teams are named for them. They’re also given celebrity status on PA television programs. So long as the PA is paying for terror it will continue in one form or another.
That’s why many in the pro-Israel community in the United States are behind the Taylor Force Act — named after a non-Jewish American killed by a Palestinian terrorist in Jaffa last year — introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The legislation would withhold the approximately $300 million that the U.S. gives the PA until the stipends to terrorists and their families are halted.
That should be a powerful incentive to the PA to cease paying for terror. But support for violence against Jews and the delegitimization of Israel is deeply embedded in the Palestinian political culture. Cutting off the terrorists would involve considerable risk for Abbas. Considering his unwillingness to accept even the most generous Israeli offers of statehood, there is little chance he is willing to risk a backlash from the clear majority of Palestinians who agree that terrorists are heroes.
This situation continues because Abbas thinks his foreign sugar daddies have no leverage over him. PA leaders and their families have stolen billions in aid they received during the last two decades without ever being held accountable. More to the point, the PA would collapse if it could not continue doling out salaries to supporters for the no show and no work jobs that are the basis of its political power. The costly and unpopular Israeli involvement in Palestinian life that might result from that collapse are why the Netanyahu government continues to tacitly support the continued flow of foreign funds to the PA though it deplores how the money is spent.
In this manner, the PA has not only gotten away with wasting the world’s charitable donations but also with policies that perpetuate the conflict their donors seek to end.
But neither Israel nor the U.S. should be so easily cowed by Abbas’ threats. The PA’s Fatah party leadership fears being seen as soft on the Jews or ready to end the war on Israel but it may also fear bankruptcy just as much. That’s why it is high time that someone at least try to make them pay a penalty for their criminal misconduct. Doing so would create some of the leverage the West needs to make the PA behave. It can be argued that the PA is too incorrigible to be reformed even by threats. But until somebody tries, we’ll never know if they can be nudged in the right direction on terror subsidies. Despite the risks, that’s an unimpeachable argument for passing and enforcing the Taylor Force Act.