By YAAKOV KATZ \12/05/2016
WASHINGTON DC – Whether Israel likes it or not, the United States Senate will aggressively promote new legislation next month aimed at cutting funding to two key allies of the Jewish State – the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, Senator Lindsey Graham told The Jerusalem Post.
A vocal longtime supporter of Israel and former US presidential candidate, Graham told The Post that as chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Operations Subcommittee, he will work to cut US aid to the PA for continuing to pay stipends to imprisoned Palestinian terrorists and to Egypt for its recent legislative crackdown on NGOs.
Graham expects Israel to oppose both moves but says that he will move forward regardless. He revealed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally asked him during Israel’s negotiations with the White House over a new military aid package to suspend his efforts in the Senate to get Israel more money than agreed upon in the MOU. According to Graham, he was offended by Netanyahu’s request.
Graham’s first piece of legislation is called the “Taylor Force Act”, named for the US military veteran who was killed in a Palestinian terrorist stabbing in Tel Aviv earlier this year. Force’s parents live in South Carolina, Graham’s home state.
“Under PA law, if you get convicted in Israeli court of being a terrorist, they give you a military rank based on how long you’ve been in jail,” Graham said. “The longer you’re in jail, the higher rank you get when you get out. If you die in an act of terrorism committed against the State of Israel or, in this case an American citizen, your family gets a stipend for the rest of their life.”
Similar legislation is pending for Egypt, he said, due to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s recent decision to approve legislation that cracks down on NGOs operating in the country. Graham said that he traveled to Cairo, met with Sisi and told the Egyptian president to “help him” and not “go down the wrong road” but that once he did, the Senate would need to take action.
Israel has in the past lobbied strongly in Congress to prevent cuts in US funding to the PA and Egypt, both of which Israel has an interest in remaining stable and secure neighbors. US aid to the PA is about $100 million and to Egypt is about $1.3 billion in military assistance.
Asked how he would respond if Israel requested that he refrain from advancing the legislation, Graham said bluntly: “I don’t care,” adding that Israel needs to decide where it stands on the issue. While Graham said he supported a two-state solution and knew that the PA was far better than Hamas, he could not continue to turn a blind eye to the Palestinian government’s financial support for terrorists.
“They killed a young man who served my country; an American citizen who got caught up in this insanity,” he said. “His parents live in my district. What am I supposed to tell them?”
Graham said he was not yet sure if he could secure the votes needed to pass the aid-freeze legislation in the Senate but he hoped to receive the support of President-elect Donald Trump.
During the interview Graham didn’t hide his frustration with Netanyahu for deciding in September to sign a new 10-year $38 billion military aid package with Obama.
The MOU, he said, “is an advisory thing” and that the way the negotiations were conducted between Jerusalem and Washington “took over the appropriations process,” shutting out Congress.
“They tried to strong arm the Congress,” he said. “Israel left $100 million on the table. I got $3.4 billion, for Israel this year in a bipartisan fashion but the administration said they would not sign the MOU unless I change my number to 3.1 … and Israel sent a letter to the administration saying they wouldn’t accept it.”
Israel, Graham added, “better get ready to send back the check” since Congress will move forward and approve more than agreed upon between Netanyahu and Obama.
Graham said that he also plans to introduce a statutory provision that will allow Israel to continue using 26% of the aid it receives from the US to purchase defense products locally in Israel. Under the MOU, the 26% is supposed to be gradually phased out over time.
“It’s not about Israeli security, it’s about Iran,” Graham said. “I want a robust, indigenous defense community, industrially-based inside of Israel. Not only for their security, because they’re in frontline state, they have to do things we don’t have to do and that technology’s been shared in abundance. It’s been a win for America.”