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White House pushed PA aid despite fears it would go to Hamas

The Biden administration expressed concerns privately that funds sent to the Palestinian Authority would bolster terror groups.

Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, March 9, 2016. Credit: Flash90.
Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, March 9, 2016. Credit: Flash90.

The Biden administration pressed forward with plans to allocate hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to the Palestinians despite concerns within the administration that those funds could end up supporting the Iran-backed terror group Hamas.

According to internal documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, U.S. State Department officials expressed those concerns privately, asking the Treasury Department to exempt them from laws barring the United States from sending funds into areas run by Palestinian terror groups.

The authorization was required to unfreeze more than $360 million in U.S. funds for the Palestinian Authority that were cut off during the Trump administration. The P.A. encourages terrorism through its “pay for slay” program, which provides money to terrorists and their families. (It refers to it as the Martyrs Fund.)

“We assess there is a high risk Hamas could potentially derive indirect, unintentional benefit from U.S. assistance to Gaza. There is less but still some risk U.S. assistance would benefit other designated groups,” the State Department wrote in the draft of a sanctions exemption request circulated internally in March 2021.

“Notwithstanding this risk, State believes it is in our national security interest to provide assistance in the West Bank and Gaza to support the foreign policy objectives,” it added.

The documents show the Biden administration “privately worried its efforts to restart Palestinian aid could benefit Hamas and other terror factions operating in the Gaza Strip,” the Free Beacon reported.

As Biden officials publicly assured Congress and the press that the aid would be distributed “consistent with U.S. law,” the State Department was seeking a sanctions exemption to allow it to skirt anti-terrorism laws.

The State Department said it needed broad authorities in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip “that would otherwise be prohibited by the Global Terrorist Sanctions Regulations and the Foreign Terrorist Organization Sanctions Regulations,” according to the draft version of the request.

“Such authorization would enable activities, including assistance activities, that are critical to support the administration’s efforts to advance prosperity, security, and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians and to advance and preserve the prospects of a negotiated solution in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state,” it said.

The Free Beacon noted that the draft request bolsters Republican warnings at the time that aid would boost terror groups. In April 2021, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and a group of Republicans sent a letter to the administration urging that the aid be halted.

“We call on you to halt these expenditures until the State Department accounts for statutory restrictions and remedies known deficiencies in the distribution of such assistance, which have for years promoted and facilitated terrorism against Americans and Israelis,” the 2021 letter stated.

Reacting to the draft exemption request revealed by the Free Beacon, Cruz said on Wednesday:

“They made a day one decision to pour hundreds of millions of American taxpayer dollars into areas controlled by Palestinian terrorists, despite knowing that such actions would benefit terrorist groups that have the blood of Americans and Israelis on their hands. State Department officials knew that doing so risked violating the most basic American laws prohibiting assistance that benefits terrorists, and so they rushed to lawlessly exempt themselves from those restrictions.”

A U.S. official told the Free Beacon that the State Department’s risk assessment should have caused the Biden administration to act with caution.

“The fact that there was a high risk that Hamas, a designated foreign terrorist organization, would benefit from U.S. assistance should have been enough to at least give the administration some pause in resuming aid, if not keep it from restarting it altogether,” said the official.

As the administration began sending hundreds of millions to the P.A., Republicans in Congress said the funding broke additional U.S. laws as well, the Free Beacon reported.

Under the Taylor Force Act, or Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, a 2018 law named after a former U.S. army officer stabbed to death in Tel Aviv in 2016, the U.S. can’t send funds to the P.A. until it stops its “pay-for-slay” program.

The State Department told Congress in a non-public 2022 report that the P.A. “continued payments to Palestinian prisoners who had committed acts of terrorism, as well as the families of so-called ‘martyrs’ who died while committing acts of terrorism.”

Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust, which obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request, said the documents show that the Biden administration knew its funding efforts could potentially violate the law.

“The Taylor Force Act was a bipartisan effort to prevent American taxpayer dollars from funding terrorists and rewarding terrorism,” Chamberlain said. “But here it appears State Department officials were trying to get around the law’s restrictions and send resources in a manner that even they thought was likely to result in funds ending up in the hands of a group designated as a terrorist organization.”

The Biden administration “talks a good game about respecting the rule of law and being the most ethical administration in history. But too often it is willing to ignore those ideals to advance a policy objective—even when that objective may conflict with the law,” he added.

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