Wall St. Journal..
11 August '16..
With an indictment unsealed last week, Israeli investigators have sounded an alarm over the illicit use of global aid money to fund Palestinian terrorism. Prosecutors in the city of Beersheba allege that Mohammed El-Halabi, Gaza Strip director of the California-based charity World Vision, transferred tens of millions of dollars to Hamas to buy weapons and build underground attack tunnels. Although World Vision denies fault, the governments of Australia and Germany have halted donations pending investigations.
This revelation should spur a broader reassessment of American aid to the Palestinian government. For two decades the Palestinian government has used U.S. and other foreign taxpayers’ money to pay generous rewards to the families of terrorists. The deadlier the crime, the larger the prize, up to about $3,100 a month, or several times the average salary of a worker in Palestine’s non-terrorist economy.
Recall that 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel was murdered in her bed by a knife-wielding Palestinian in June. She was a dual Israeli-American citizen, making her the 11th American killed by Palestinians since 2014. Other victims include 18-year-old Ezra Schwartz, a student from Sharon, Mass., and 28-year-old Taylor Force, a West Point graduate and two-tour U.S. Army veteran from Lubbock, Texas. The families of the killers now receive regular payments from Palestinian leaders—funded partly by U.S. taxpayers.
No U.S. official can plead ignorance. Palestinian law has sanctioned these payments since at least 2004, specifying how much money is earned depending on the circumstances of the attacker and the body count. A Palestinian from Israel with a wife and children who kills many people and dies in the act, or is captured and sentenced to more than 30 years in prison, earns the most. Single, childless attackers from the West Bank or Gaza earn less. The incentives are clear.
In 2014 Israel estimated the terror payments at $75 million, or a sum equal to 16% of all aid sent to Palestine from overseas. This year the figure is nearly $140 million, says Yigal Carmon of the Middle East Media Research Institute.
How do U.S. aid transfers square with laws against funding terrorism? Willful blindness helps. “I think that they plan to phase it out,” State Department official Anne Patterson said in 2014 after the meaningless PA-to-PLO two-step. This year’s State Department report on terrorism praised Palestinian leaders for “many improvements,” including making “terrorism financing a criminal offense.” It said nothing about official payments to terrorists.
The U.S. also fears that limiting aid to Palestine could destabilize the Abbas government, which for all its sins is preferable to Hamas. Israel shares this fear. And therein lies a basic failing of both U.S. and Israeli strategy: reliance on illiberal kleptocratic leaders like Mr. Abbas whose legitimacy, such as it is, derives from their association with the terrorist “resistance” against Israel.
In 2002 George W. Bush tried to reorient the strategy, calling on Palestinians to elect new leaders “not compromised by terror.” But he got little traction among his own diplomats, who preferred to extend the “peace process” of the 1990s, and among Israeli leaders, who scorned the notion that near-term Palestinian political reform was possible.
Today there is no Palestinian liberalization project and the U.S. and Israel are propping up Mr. Abbas, an octogenarian in the 11th year of a four-year term who is unwilling or unable to stop inciting terrorism, glorifying “martyrs” and paying gifts to their families.
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers led by Sen. Dan Coats (R., Ind.) wants to cut U.S. aid to Palestine by whatever amount is paid to terrorists. This is well-meaning but inadequate.
As long as Palestinian political culture remains unchanged—as long as Palestine’s liberal friends excuse its every illiberal offense—expect the glorification of terrorism to continue. This is a political scandal far greater than any single charity funneling funds to Hamas.
Mr. Feith is a Journal editorial writer based in Hong Kong.
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