In an April 2 telephone call with Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized that “the administration’s belief that Israelis and Palestinians should enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and democracy.” He also expressed a reiteration of “the United States’ strong commitment to Israel and its security and looks forward to strengthening all aspects of the U.S.-Israel partnership.”
The conversation came after it was revealed that not only had the new Biden-Harris administration pledged $15 million through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to fight coronavirus. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced that sum at the U.N. Security Council’s March Mideast meeting, saying the money will support Catholic Relief Services’ “COVID-19 response efforts in health-care facilities and for vulnerable families in the West Bank and Gaza,” as well as “support emergency food aid to communities in need as a result of the pandemic.”
But quite stealthily, it came out that America is preparing to transfer as much as $100 million in aid for Palestinians—a sum that could reach $125 million, according to some sources.
The intention to reverse the Trump administration policy and resume aid handouts was already indicated back in late January in a virtual speech before the U.N. Security Council by then-acting U.S. ambassador Richard Mills. In his Jan. 26 remarks, Mills said that the intention of the administration is “to preserve the viability of a two-state solution.”
In other words, while there are imperatives of “improving conditions on the ground, particularly the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” Biden intends not only “restore U.S. assistance programs that support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people” not as “a favor to the Palestinian leadership,” but that this assistance will benefit “ordinary Palestinians and helps to preserve a stable environment that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis.” Further, steps will be taken “to reopen diplomatic missions that were closed by the last U.S. administration.”
In an AP report, we learn that $5.4 million of the aid will be going “to Palestinian civic groups, including possibly independent media, in the West Bank and Gaza.” The term “independent media” is somewhat of an oxymoron as there are no truly independent media agencies in the Palestinian Authority, at least those outside of jail or interrogation centers. Additional targets for the largesse include the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, sanitation, water supply and transportation infrastructure, social services and job training for Palestinian youth, micro-loans and grants for small businesses, as well as disaster preparedness.
When all of this is compared to the report of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released on March 29, it becomes obvious that the money of the American taxpayer is being spent with disregard to recent political developments but to American law.
In fiscal years 2015-19, as the report details, USAID expended $487.3 million out of the budgeted $540.4 million of both the 2015 and 2016 ESF assistance for the program. The Trump administration had reprogrammed $230.1 million allocated for 2017 to other programs and did not allocate funds for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Back in In December 2018, the Palestinian Authority stated it would refuse to accept assistance after Jan. 31, 2019, because of its concerns about the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018. That Taylor Force bill included provisions that could make recipients of ESF assistance subject to U.S. lawsuits. Interestingly, it appears that the State Department is seeking to walk a very thin line as the provisions of that limiting amendment do not apply to “(1) the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, (2) wastewater projects, and (3) children’s vaccination projects.”
All in all, since 1993, the U.S. government has provided more than $6.3 billion in bilateral assistance.
While individuals and organizations were checked for links to terrorism, USAID did not ensure that awards these entities made to others, known as sub-awards, were compliant with anti-terrorism requirements. The GAO strongly recommended that if there is a resumption of USAID funding, there need be a verification that “prime awardees have procedures to ensure compliance with requirements before making sub-awards and conduct post-award compliance reviews in time to make corrections before the awards end.”
As a result of the Taylor Force Act, USAID ended 27 ongoing projects and halted the refilling of authorized positions at its West Bank and Gaza mission. Congress was notified of a planned reduction in force and about 50 staff were placed on temporary assignment to other efforts. That is a lot of staff.
In other words, the Palestinian National Authority was, and still is, engaged in policies that support, encourage and initiate terror. And the Biden Administration is ignoring that. Indications are that the many NGOs that disburse these funds are lax in assuring that they are fully compliant with the law. Moreover, the entire “humanitarian” scheme is fraught with political overtones, including Catholic Relief Services.
Combined with this is the parallel concern about the new, or resuscitated, Iran policy of the administration.
As this administration moves forward to deal with Mahmoud Abbas’s regime—one that was a terror organization and is now a terror authority—Israel’s friends, and more importantly, its critics (specifically that strident camp of liberal-cum-woke Jews) must be confronted with the facts and the rationale that without a most critical overview and supervision, they may be permitting the United States to assist very real dangerous policies that will harm Israel and its citizens.
Yisrael Medad is an American-born Israeli journalist and political commentator.
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