According to the Times of Israel, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Palestinian Authority has agreed to stop paying the families of terrorists who have been jailed or killed for committing acts of terror against Israelis. The announcement represents a rare concession from the Palestinians who have insisted that the murder of Israelis is a legitimate act of resistance.

The ‘Martyrs’ Fund’

Palestinian terrorist groups have been paying stipends to families of dead or imprisoned terrorists since 1964.

The practice was made routine by the Palestinian Authority during the Second Intifada of 2000-2005. The so-called “Martyrs’ Fund” system currently pays $170 million a year to 35,000 families of dead or convicted terrorists. The system is wildly popular among Palestinians. Israel, understandably, regards payments to families of terrorists as blood money.

The Trump Administration insists that the payments stop

American presidents have agreed with the Israelis that the Martyrs’ Fund is essentially a “pay for slay” operation, providing a monetary incentive for would-be jihadis to try to kill Israelis. The difference is that only the Trump administration proposed to do something about it. Both President Trump and Secretary Tillerson have told PA leader Mahmoud Abbas in no uncertain terms that the payments must stop, the idea being that peace cannot be achieved while murder is being subsidized.

In the meantime, Congress is considering legislation that would cut off foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority unless and until it stops paying families of terrorists. The bill has wide, bi-partisan support and stands a pretty good chance of passing. Without foreign aid from the United States, the PA stands a good chance of collapsing unless an alternate revenue stream is found.

What happens next?

Much depends on whether Abbas is serious about his promise to halt the payments. He is bound to face domestic backlash for the decision. While he is not likely to be replaced in anything resembling a free election, since such things do not exist in the Palestinian Authority, he could be overthrown and/or killed.

Arab leaders thought to be too soft on Israel, such as President Anwar Sadat, have fallen to assassins' bullets before.

Also, Abbas may try to pull a fast one and try to keep the stipends going by other means. He might want to think twice about that. Trump has already called the Palestinian leader a liar to his face and would not take well to a repeat performance. Getting American foreign aid cut off may be the least of Abbas’ troubles in that case.