WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to sharply reduce the annual $300 million in U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it take steps to stop making what lawmakers described as payments that reward violent crime.
The House backed by voice vote the Taylor Force Act, named after a 29-year-old American military veteran fatally stabbed by a Palestinian while visiting Israel last year.
The measure is intended to stop the Palestinians from paying stipends, referred to as “martyr payments,” to the families of militants killed or imprisoned by Israeli authorities. The payments can reach $3,500 per month.
“This perverse ‘pay-to-slay’ system uses a sliding scale. The longer the jail sentence, the greater the reward. The highest payments go to those serving life sentences - to those who prove most brutal,” Republican Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said before the vote.
Force’s attacker was killed by Israeli police, and his killer’s family receives such a monthly payment.
To become law, the measure must also be passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Donald Trump. Similar legislation has been passed by two Senate committees, but there was no immediate word on when the Senate might take up the bill.
Its passage reflected strong pro-Israel sentiment in Washington. Separately on Tuesday, Trump told Israeli and Arab leaders that he intends to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, changing decades-old U.S. policy, despite the Palestinians’ desire to have their capital in East Jerusalem.
Trump’s fellow Republicans control majorities in both the House and Senate.
Palestinian officials have said they intend to continue the payments, which they see as support for relatives of those imprisoned by Israel for fighting against occupation or who have died in connection with that cause.
The measures moving through Congress now are not as severe as had been proposed. The legislation passed by the House had been amended to allow exceptions such as continued funding for water projects and children’s vaccinations.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman