Joe Biden's recent gift of $235 million in aid to the Palestinians violates the spirit of the Taylor Force Act and betrays the memory of Taylor Force himself. Any ephemeral policy success Biden achieved with the move comes at the expense of whatever is left of his integrity.
Taylor Force was a West Point graduate, U.S. Army veteran and graduate student at Vanderbilt University. He was 28 years old when he was murdered in Israel by a Palestinian terrorist named Bashar Masalha on March 8, 2016. Masalha wounded 10 others in his attack before being killed by Israeli police. His family immediately attained celebrity status among many Palestinians and his "martyrdom" was applauded by major Palestinian groups: Fatah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Two years later, the Taylor Force Act was signed into law, ending all future aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) unless and until the practice of rewarding terrorists and their families through the Martyrs Fund is ended. In 2017, this so-called "pay for slay" provision of Palestinian law added up to a whopping $344 million.
Then-Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel when Taylor Force was stabbed to death there. In fact, he was in Tel Aviv, where the murder occurred. Even more coincidental, he was in the immediate vicinity. As he told reporters, "I don't know exactly whether it was a hundred meters or a thousand meters."
Biden had never established himself as much of a friend or foe to Israel over the course of his decades in Congress. Early on in his tenure as vice president, he traveled to Israel to demand that building be stopped in what he called "West Bank settlements." But the murder of an American so close to where Biden and his family physically were seemed to have jarred him. He personally "condemned in the strongest possible terms the brutal attack," adding that "there is no justification for such acts of terror."
He also spoke in his official capacity as vice president of the United States: "Let me say in no uncertain terms, the United States of America condemns these acts and condemns the failure to condemn these acts." His condemnation of those who refuse to condemn the attack was interpreted as a jab directed at the Palestinian Authority. The vice president added that Taylor Force's murder "brings home that it can happen, it can happen anywhere, at any time."
Biden has shown that his past words condemning Palestinian terrorism were empty gestures.
Alas, as president, Joe Biden has shown that his words as vice president condemning Palestinian terrorism were mere empty gestures. The Martyrs Fund has not gone away. "Pay for slay" lives on.
The new funding announced last Wednesday was just one part of Biden's apparent plan to reverse all of Donald Trump's Palestinian-related policies.
In addition to cutting funding for the PA, Trump moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, defunded UNRWA, withdrew the U.S. from the vehemently anti-Israel UNESCO and UNHRC, shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Washington, D.C. and abandoned much of the grotesque Obama-UN lexicon on Israeli-Palestinian relations.
In his first 100 days in office, Biden has resumed funding of the Palestinians and UNRWA. He has rejoined the UNHRC, will probably soon rejoin UNESCO and has pledged to re-open the PLO mission. Biden's State Department has gone back to the old practice of referring to Judea and Samaria as "occupied territories."
Presidents have long looked the other way when U.S. citizens are murdered by Palestinians.
For decades, the Palestinian leadership has conducted itself as the political arm of the various terrorist organizations it controls. Whether they call themselves Fatah, PLO, PA or Hamas, Palestinian leaders invariably coordinate attacks and obstruct rapprochement with Israel. The U.S. has long endured this truth, and has often pretended it wasn't so. American presidents have looked the other way when our own citizens and diplomats were murdered by Palestinian terrorists, all in the hope of achieving the chimera of peace in the Middle East.
During his four years in office, Donald Trump changed that. De-emphasizing the Palestinian centrality of Middle East policy led to the Abraham Accords—the most notable peace in the region since 1979.
But Joe Biden likes things the old way.
As secretary of state, John Kerry acknowledged that Iran would fund terrorism with some of the money it received in the 2015 nuclear deal. It was worth the trade-off, he believed, of a grand deal that would turn the Islamic Republic of Iran into a responsible nuclear power. That was a complete fantasy.
Likewise, Joe Biden believes that the advantages to funding Palestinians outweigh the unfortunate fact that a percentage of that money will be spent on missiles, salaries of imprisoned terrorists and pensions for the families of Palestinian "martyrs."
Biden seems to have forgotten the visceral shock he felt five years ago when Taylor Force was murdered nearby. He is now blinded as he chases the fantasy of a responsible Palestinian leadership that can be persuaded to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel.
A.J. Caschetta is a Ginsberg-Milstein fellow at the Middle East Forum and a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.