U.S. Government Shutdown Endangers American Aid to Palestinian Security Forces

'Nobody in Israel wants a security crisis in the West Bank weeks before an election,' one source says

File photo: U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 23, 2017.
Evan Vucci/AP

WASHINGTON – U.S. aid to Palestinian Authority security forces is under threat due to the ongoing government shutdown in Washington, according to two sources familiar with the details.

Initiated by U.S. President Donald Trump as a result of a dispute with Democrats in Congress over the financing of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the shutdown also hinders Congress' ability to amend a law signed in by the president in October – which directly threatens the PA's ability to receive funding from D.C.

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As a result, the PA’s forces – who work closely with the Israeli security establishment against terror groups in the West Bank – may be forced to operate without U.S. assistance if the shutdown persists beyond the next two weeks.

The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act states that international entities that receive any form of foreign assistance from the United States will become vulnerable to lawsuits filed by U.S. citizens in American courts.

The law seeks to allow U.S. citizens who were victims of Palestinian terror attacks to sue the PA for reparations. Previous attempts to file such lawsuits were blocked, based on the argument that the U.S. judiciary doesn’t have jurisdiction over the PA.

As a result of the new legislation, the PA has a clear incentive to stop receiving U.S. security assistance, as even accepting a single dollar from Washington would open it up to potential lawsuits.

The Trump administration realized the legislation's problematic aspects only after it had been signed into law. Over the past two months, it has tried to work with Congress to amend the legislation so that it won’t prevent the PA from accepting U.S. security assistance.

Attempts to amend the legislation, however, are currently in stasis due to the government shutdown. Two sources involved in the process told Haaretz that, while there is a good chance of getting key actors in Congress to support a “fix” to the legislation, doing so is impossible without active involvement by State Department officials – who are currently not working because of the shutdown.

If the law isn’t fixed before the end of January, it will be too late for the upcoming fiscal year and the PA will be forced to reject U.S. assistance. Such a scenario would weaken its infrastructure, something of great concern to the Israeli security establishment.

“Nobody in Israel wants a security crisis in the West Bank weeks before an election,” said one source involved in attempts to fix the legislation.

Over the past year, the Trump administration slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from various U.S. aid programs to the Palestinians, as a result of an ongoing clash between the White House and the PA. However, these cuts excluded assistance to the PA security forces.

In the past, the United States has explained that the continued support was a result of the PA's security coordination with Israel, as well as U.S. intelligence agencies.

Along with senior Israeli defense officials, Washington believes it is better to have some level of American influence over the PA’s security forces, especially when the alternatives are either their collapse due to lack of funding, or that other countries less affiliated with Israel will fill the financial vacuum.

The shutdown has been in place for two weeks, with no end in sight. In a meeting with congressional leaders last week, Trump said that as far as he is concerned, the shutdown could go on for months, or even years, unless Congress allocates billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.