New Law Endangers U.S. Assistance to Palestinian Authority Security Forces

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U.S. President Donald Trump meeting with Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank on May 23, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump meeting with Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank on May 23, 2017.Credit: Evan Vucci,AP

WASHINGTON  A new law signed this week by U.S. President Donald Trump raises the likelihood that America will end its financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority’s security forces.

The law gives American courts the jurisdiction to seize assets from any entity that receives foreign assistance from the U.S. government. It means that in the future, if the PA receives even one dollar of security assistance from the U.S., American citizens could sue it for past support of terrorism and lead it to bankruptcy.

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Over the past year, the Trump administration has cut hundreds of millions of dollars from various aid programs to the Palestinians. The only area, however, which the administration didn’t cut funding from, is security assistance. That’s because the PA’s security forces in the West Bank work in coordination with the Israeli military to thwart terror attacks and arrest Hamas activists.

Senior Israeli military officials have stated that this coordination saves Israeli lives. The Palestinian security forces also have a close cooperation with American security and intelligence agencies, that has continued despite the current political crisis between the Trump administration and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Yet a law that was passed by Congress last week, and signed by Trump on Wednesday, risks the continuation of that cooperation. The “Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act”, which passed both houses of Congress in late September, puts any entity that receives American security assistance   such as the PA  at risk of standing trial before American courts over past support for terrorism.

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Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit against the PA which was filed by American citizens who were victims of Palestinian terror attacks during the Second Intifada. The verdict was that the U.S. court system did not have jurisdiction over the PA because it is a foreign entity.

The new law would change that situation, and allow U.S. courts to deal with such lawsuits in the future, under one condition: that the PA accept financial assistance from the U.S. government.

This means that starting next year, the PA will face a dilemma: either it will stop receiving any assistance from the U.S., something that will cause damage to its security forces which rely on American support; or it will continue to receive such support, and open itself to the risk of massive lawsuits that make it go bankrupt. The lawsuit rejected last year by the Supreme Court asked for a billion dollars in reparations. It should be noted that all the attacks mentioned in the lawsuit took place when Yasser Arafat was president of the PA, and at a time when, unlike today, its security forces did not work closely with Israel to thwart terror attacks.

Lara Friedman, president of the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, warned last week that the new law “will fundamentally undercut U.S. foreign aid worldwide.” Friedman explained that even though the legislation was specifically drawn up to hurt the PA, it could lead to massive lawsuits against any other entity or country that receives U.S. foreign assistance. “This will be a huge risk for a range of U.S. allies and partners who receive aid,” she wrote, specifically pointing to Jordan and Egypt, two countries that have peace agreements with Israel and receive significant amounts of aid from the U.S. government.

On the Palestinian side, the law could raise new questions about the value of security and intelligence coordination with Israel. That coordination is deeply unpopular among the Palestinian public, but the PA leadership views it as a national security interest. That could change if American security aid to the PA stops because of the new law.

Haaretz reached out to the White House for comment on Thursday. A spokesperson referred the request to the State Department, which provided no reply as of Friday afternoon.

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