WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders have agreed to allocate $150 million in next year’s budget as aid to the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, which the U.S. administration cut almost entirely in 2017 and 2018.
This includes $75 million in assistance for the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, and another $75 million to support civilian and humanitarian programs and institutions not directly connected to the PA, including hospitals in East Jerusalem.
In the past two years, President Donald Trump's administration decided to cut all U.S. assistance to the Palestinians except for security aid that goes to supporting the PA’s internal security forces. Those forces work closely with Israel to prevent terrorism in the West Bank, and Israeli officials lobbied the administration not to cut their funding.
The main reason behind the administration’s series of decisions to cut aid was the Palestinian boycott of the Trump White House over the president’s December 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and his declaration that he has “taken Jerusalem off the table.” The administration wanted to put pressure on the Palestinians to change their stance and agree to enter negotiations based on Trump’s policies.
The budget deal agreed by both Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress on Monday will grant funding to some of programs and institutions that lost funding in 2018 as a result of the administration’s cuts. This includes organizations that promote coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, humanitarian and development projects, and hospitals in East Jerusalem that serve the city’s Palestinian population, as well as Palestinians from the West Bank.
The money supporting the PA’s security forces, meanwhile, was complicated by a different factor: legislation approved by Congress in 2018, and signed into law by Trump, that exposed the PA to massive lawsuits in American courts over its past support for terrorism, in case it received any U.S. funding. The legislation, known as the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, caused the PA last year to announce its refusal to accept any security assistance from the United States, in order to avoid potential lawsuits that could drive it to bankruptcy.
Congress has struggled for the past year to find a “fix” to the legislation that would allow the PA to once again receive security aid. This week's budget deal included a solution that was constructed by bipartisan senators. The “fix” will allow the U.S. to support the PA’s security forces, but at the same time the PA will still face the possibility of lawsuits in American court if it supports terrorists, or the families of terrorists, who have harmed American citizens.
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Coinciding with congressional leaders' approval of the $150 million aid budget, they rejected a request from the White House to provide $175 million for a special fund that could go toward supporting Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. The White House was hoping this sum could be kept in a “Diplomatic Progress Fund,” and later be used to support the Palestinians in case there was a breakthrough in negotiations.