Since taking the reins in January, the new administration in Washington has made a virtue of reversing former President Donald Trump’s cuts in funding to the Palestinian Authority. Sums of $15 million for a COVID-19 containment project and $75 million of general economic support in March were followed in April by a package that included $150 million for UNRWA, which under Trump had seen its funding cut to zero.
Then in May, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, where he announced an overall package in excess of $360 million for the Palestinian people. In a statement released by his office the following day, Blinken stated: “The U.S. government is also firmly committed to ensuring all its assistance is provided consistent with applicable U.S. law, including the Taylor Force Act.”
Inter alia, the Taylor Force Act conditions all U.S. Economic Support Fund aid, which constitutes the bulk of U.S. aid, on the P.A.’s terminating “payments for acts of terrorism.” Additionally, it must revoke “any law, decree, regulation or document” authorizing what amounts to the P.A.’s “pay for slay” policy of rewarding terrorists and their families with a monthly stipend, payments of which can reach up to 12,000 shekels (approximately $3,700) per month for those convicted of the most heinous crimes.
But the P.A. has shown unwavering commitment to the policy. Abbas is on record giving his personal commitment to it, stating in October 2018: “I say this to everyone—the salaries of our martyrs, prisoners and wounded are a red line. … From 1965 until now, this matter is sacred to us. The martyrs and their families are sacred, [and so are] the wounded and the prisoners. We must pay all of them. If one penny remains in our hands, it is for them and not for the living.”
It’s possible that the U.S. State Department is adhering to the letter of the law by using monies outside of the Economic Support Fund to pay the Palestinians; I’m not a lawyer, so I couldn’t say definitely. But given that money is fungible, it is certain that the Biden administration is not adhering to the spirit of the law.
Why might this be?
I reached out to more than a dozen members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on both sides of the aisle to ask them just that. Only Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was willing to comment.
“Secretary Blinken’s promise to send millions in aid to the Palestinians almost certainly violates restrictions in the Taylor Force Act,” he said, adding: “The Biden administration must halt all U.S. aid to the Palestinians until we can be sure that this aid isn’t benefitting the Palestinian Authority or terrorist organizations like Hamas that are eager to wipe Israel off the map.”
Cotton was one of 18 Republican senators who, in early April, wrote to Blinken to call on the State Department to halt payments to the P.A. and Hamas until they are brought in line with the Taylor Force Act.
“Since 1993, the U.S. government provided more than $6.3 billion to the Palestinians with the aims of, first, advancing the Palestinians’ capacity to build a state and, second, insulating and distancing Palestinian governance from terrorism,” the senators wrote. “Measured by the degree to which they have achieved those aims, U.S. programs have not just failed but have been counterproductive, with the money facilitating terrorist incitement and making its way to terrorists. In just the last few weeks, U.S. government documents and announcements by the Palestinians have made clear those failings were systematic and structural.”
They added: “If a Palestinian state was established today it would be a failed state, lacking political institutions, economic viability, a monopoly on the use of force by internal groups, and a non-terrorist government capable of exerting sovereignty over all claimed territories.”
Given this, what justification can the Biden administration have for making these vast payments, apparently in contravention of U.S. law?
In his April 7 statement announcing the funding, Blinken gave the official answer: “It provides critical relief to those in great need, fosters economic development and supports Israeli-Palestinian understanding, security coordination and stability,” he said.
But, as the senators pointed out in their letter, foreign funding does none of those things. Not only that, but the Trump approach of cutting funding was producing tangible positive results: the Abraham Accords were normalizing relations between Israel and the wider Arab world, putting Ramallah on the back foot. Within weeks of the April 7 funding-package announcement, on the other hand, Hamas was again firing thousands of rockets at Tel Aviv, while an emboldened Fatah incited riots in Jerusalem.
But Blinken had been insistent: “U.S. foreign assistance for the Palestinian people serves important U.S. interests and values,” he had said in April. “It also aligns with the values and interests of our allies and partners.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price had said the same thing in his April 7 press briefing: “We have announced this aid today in the first instance [my emphasis] because it’s consistent with our values and our interests.”
The question then becomes: What precisely are the values and interests that Blinken and the State Department are referring to? The assumption is that they intend to foster peace, coexistence and prosperity for the Palestinian people. But given that all the evidence shows that the payments do no such thing, and in fact do quite the opposite, is this assumption sound?
A speech delivered to Congress by progressive Missouri Rep. Cori Bush in May gives us a steer on what might be going on here.
In her speech, Bush drew an overt connection between black rights in America and the Palestinian cause, using the language of “oppression” and “resistance.”
“Palestinians know what state violence, militarized policing and occupation of their communities look like,” said Bush. “The same equipment that they use to brutalize us [in St. Louis] is the same equipment that we send to the Israeli military to police and brutalize Palestinians. … That harassment, that extortion, that brutalization by a heavily armed militarized presence [i.e., the police] in our community, that’s what we fund when our government sends our tax dollars to the Israeli military.”
She later tweeted a recording of the speech, with the accompanying statement: “The fight for black lives and the fight for Palestinian liberation are interconnected.”
One of the most startling aspects of the coverage of the recent flair-up between Israel and Hamas in Gaza was the willingness by anti-Israel voices to cast the Jewish state as a “settler-colonialist” project.
“The settler-colonialist State of Israel murdered at least 9 Palestinian children via airstrikes today,” tweeted the Black Socialists of America.
“The State of Israel is a settler-colonialist nation-state just like the USA, so recent IOF attacks on Palestinians at their place of worship in East Jerusalem come as no surprise. The solution, however, doesn’t lie in more bourgeois nationalism and statism, let alone Capitalism,” they opined in another tweet.
Similarly, Temple University professor and Black Lives Matter activist Marc Lamont Hill said that the goal of BLM is to “dismantle the Zionist project, dismantle the settler colonialist project.”
Settler colonialist theory has its origins in part in the Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, in which they remarked that the “need of a constantly expanding market for its product chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe,” and that it “must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.”
In recasting the bourgeoisie-proletariat dichotomy in settler-native terms, it preserves the class struggle in the guise of the struggle between settler and native, revitalizing the worn-out old theory for modern use.
Defenders of Israel must understand that this is what we are up against. The Israel-Palestinian conflict draws so much intense interest worldwide precisely because it serves as a distillation of the wider conflict between Western civilization—of which Jewish values serve as a central pillar via the Judeo-Christian tradition—and those who seek to bring it down.
In prioritizing spending to the Palestinians at this time—indeed, in stating that it is providing the funding because the Palestinian cause is aligned with its own values and interests—the Biden administration has made it clear which side it is on.
Donna Rachel Edmunds is the director of press and public affairs at Palestinian Media Watch.