President Trump has a chance to achieve his first victory in the Mideast peace process when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visits the White House this week, but only if he pushes Abbas to end the PA policy of giving aid to terrorists, according to a trio of Senate Republicans.
"The PA's practice of diverting aid money to terrorists and their families must end," South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Florida's Marco Rubio wrote Tuesday in a letter to Trump.
The Palestinian leadership provides a pension to the families of terrorists, according to the lawmakers, which is a rewards system established by law that functions as an incentive for potential terrorists to carry out attacks. "The more deadly the attack, the larger the payments," they wrote. "Alongside lavish financial benefits, PA law establishes assistance programs to promote the careers of those who served time in jail for attacks – in essence, an affirmative action program for terrorists, funded by US aid."
The lawmakers want Trump to pressure Abbas to scrap that system, saying it could open the door to broader peace talks. "Morally it must end because the United States cannot be complicit in incentivizing terror," the letter said. "And strategically it must end because the PA will never convince Americans, the Congress, or Israel that it is serious about peace while it is still funding terror. We agree with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who said recently that ending PA funding for terror is 'a test for peace.'"
Trump might have limited ability to influence Abbas on major issues, given the political pressure he faces back home. "Abbas faces internal political pressure from a major Palestinian prisoner hunger strike led by one of the men looking to succeed him — Marwan Barghouti," as Foreign Policy magazine noted. "Trump should instead seek a series of smaller steps from all sides that improve the quality of life for Israelis and Palestinians on the ground, preserve the possibility of the imperiled two-state solution, dissuade both sides from taking unhelpful steps, and create a better environment for future negotiations."
If Abbas won't respond to Trump's advocacy, the senators hope to end the practice through legislation that revokes U.S. aid to the Palestinians. "Taxpayer dollars are no longer going to subsidize the murder of American citizens or Israeli citizens," Cotton told reporters in February.