Politics & Policy

Bailing Out the Palestinian Authority

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas (Francois Lenoir)
In its final hours, the Obama administration transferred $221 million to the Palestinian Authority, which gives payments to terrorists and their families.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry surprised many observers by devoting so much of their waning time in office to excoriating Israel. But it turns out they had more mischief planned: a last-minute Palestinian bailout.

Only three hours before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Obama administration notified Congress that it would send $221 million to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The funding had previously been blocked by two separate congressional holds, which are usually respected by the executive branch.

The Obama administration informed Congress that the money would fund humanitarian projects as well as political and security reforms to help prepare for a future Palestinian state. However, only the willfully blind can deny that this money will also finance terrorism and ultimately prolong the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

Since 2004, Palestinian law has explicitly mandated large monthly payments to the families of terrorists who attack Israel, as well as salaries and jobs for the terrorists on their release from Israeli jails. The PA structures the payments so as to make its incentive structure crystal clear: The more Israelis you wound or kill, the more money your family will receive.

Some families of terrorists can even receive up to $3,100 per month — so long as their relative has killed many Israelis and either died during the attack or was sentenced to over 30 years in Israeli jail. By comparison, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reports that the average Palestinian salary is just over $276 per month.

These payments add up. In 2014, Israel estimated that the PA paid $75 million per year to families of terrorists. However, the number may have risen sharply this past year, to $137.8 million, financing the “knife intifada” that terrorized Israelis. By transferring $221 million in its final hours, the Obama administration has ensured that the PA will be able to carry on business as usual without reducing its terror subsidies.

Palestinian leaders have tried to hide their support for terrorism by transferring the subsidies in 2014 from the PA, which receives international aid, to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which does not. This even managed to fool State Department official Anne Patterson, who said of the subsidies at the time, “I think they plan to phase it out.” However, Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party run both the PA and the PLO, and the subsidies have continued.

How can we be so easily fooled into funding terrorism? “Willful blindness helps,” writes David Feith in the Wall Street Journal. America continues to prop up Abbas’s government, even though he denies the Holocaust, incites terrorism, and his term in office technically ran out in January 2009.

The Obama administration was willfully blind for a reason. As Daniel Pipes writes in a recent issue of Commentary, the international community and even many Israeli politicians have expected the Israeli–Palestinian conflict “to be concluded through goodwill, conciliation, mediation, flexibility, restraint, generosity, and compromise, topped off with signatures on official documents.” Accordingly, the theory goes, Israel must make painful concessions while Palestinian incitement and support for terrorism can be overlooked, all in the hope that the Palestinians will be won over and “reciprocate by accepting the Jewish state.”

Appeasement and denial of facts on the ground only resuscitate Palestinian war aims and extend the conflict.

It is this approach, which has failed since 1993, that the Obama administration applied with its focus on settlements at the U.N. But it is pure foolishness to expect a sudden burst of reciprocity from the Palestinians. “Wars usually end,” writes Pipes, “when failure causes one side to despair, when that side has abandoned its war aims and accepted defeat, and when that defeat has exhausted the will to fight.”

Yet the international community and the Obama administration sought to prevent a Palestinian defeat as they chased a mediated solution. For example, by declaring at the U.N. Security Council that the Israeli presence in East Jerusalem — including at the Western Wall and the Temple Mount — has “no legal validity,” the message to the Palestinians is clear: “Do not give up your struggle or moderate your war aims. Jerusalem is yours, so keep fighting for it.” The insistence on zero natural growth in Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem beyond the Green Line encourages the Palestinians not to concede areas that will obviously become part of Israel in any peace deal, and to maintain their maximalist war aims, even though Israel is never going to surrender Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

Every international bailout, including the $221 million from Obama, only encourages the Palestinians to keep fighting for unattainable objectives.

The foreign-policy establishment will always fret that recognizing Israeli control of Jerusalem will anger the Palestinians, but appeasement and denial of facts on the ground only resuscitate Palestinian war aims and extend the conflict. This is one important reason why the Trump administration must not renege on its campaign pledge to move America’s embassy to Jerusalem.

President Trump will do Palestinians no favors by encouraging them to carry on a losing struggle for unachievable aims, such as retaking Jerusalem. Instead, Trump should reverse the failed policies of the past and make clear that Israeli control of Jerusalem is an immutable fact.

Elliot Kaufman — Elliot Kaufman is an editorial intern at National Review. He studies political theory and history at Stanford University. His writing has previously appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Stanford ...

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