Mr. Abbas’s visit to the White House will present Mr. Trump with the Palestinian viewpoint more directly than he has ever heard it as president. But at 82, Mr. Abbas is a weakened political figure facing public discontent and divisions at home.
His Palestinian Authority operates in the West Bank, while the more militant rival Hamas faction rules in Gaza. Despite an effort by Hamas this week to present a somewhat more moderate face to the world, the two factions remain at odds. Even if they did reconcile, Israel has refused to deal with any coalition that includes what it and the United States consider a terrorist organization.
The issue of payments to families of suicide bombers and others who commit violence has become a frequent complaint by Israel and its supporters. The Palestinian Authority spends about $315 million a year to distribute cash and benefits to 36,000 families, according to Sander Gerber, a New York hedge fund executive and fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, who has studied the issue and brought his research to American lawmakers.
“The P.A. orchestrated one of the great diplomatic deceptions of the last 30 years,” Mr. Gerber said. “It’s only being exposed now. President Trump has the opportunity to let the world know that the sponsorship of terror is intolerable and will have consequences.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel raised the issue on Tuesday, making clear it will be a point of contention in any talks. “The payment of money to terrorists by a sliding scale — the more you kill the more you get — that’s the opposite of peace,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “It sends exactly the wrong message to young Palestinians. We want them to move towards peace.”
In an Op-Ed piece Monday in The New York Times, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of public security and strategic affairs, called the payments “the most insidious form of encouragement to violence,” one effectively subsidized by American taxpayers and other countries that finance the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian leaders defend the payments, saying they are meant to help widows and orphans of “martyrs,” as they call suicide bombers and others killed in attacks, as well as destitute families of prisoners, not to promote terrorism. They say Israel effectively subsidizes violence by encouraging settlers in the occupied West Bank. “I think the worst kind of terrorism is the occupation,” Jibril Rajoub, a top Palestinian official, said in an interview during a recent trip to Washington.
But Mr. Rajoub also signaled that Palestinian leaders would be willing to reconsider the payments as part of a broader negotiation. “We will discuss everything with an open mind,” he said.
The legislation sponsored by Mr. Cotton and other Republican senators like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida is named the Taylor Force Act after an American graduate student who was killed while visiting Israel last year.
Mr. Force, 28, was a combat veteran studying at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt when he joined other students on a March 2016 trip to Israel to learn about global entrepreneurship. He was stabbed by a Palestinian member of Hamas on a coastal promenade near Tel Aviv. His family has been working with American lawmakers like Mr. Cotton to curb the practice of financial payments to relatives of such attackers.
Khaled Elgindy, a former adviser to the Palestinian leadership on negotiations with Israel, and now a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the bill reflected a typically one-sided view of the conflict by American lawmakers of both parties. “Congress’s role on this issue does not have a strong track record on being objective,” he said. “There isn’t really a fair or even honest hearing of the issue in Congress.”
On Tuesday, Israel celebrated its 69th independence day, and the White House hosted a reception to reinforce its support for an ally.
“If the world knows nothing else, the world will know this: America stands with Israel,” Vice President Mike Pence told guests. “President Trump stands with Israel for the same reason that every freedom-loving American stands with Israel — because her cause is our cause. Her values are our values. And her fight is our fight.”