Trump Administration Nixes Funding for Palestinian Security Forces From 2021 Budget Plan

Move is likely another form of diplomatic punishment against the Palestinian Authority, this time over its rejection of the administration’s Mideast plan

A Palestinian protester burns a poster with a picture of Trump during clashes in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 30, 2020.
Nasser Nasser,AP

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration excluded funding for the Palestinian Security Services in its budget request for the 2021 fiscal year, after 27 years of bipartisan support and Israeli backing.

However, the budget request does include $200 million for a “Diplomatic Progress Fund” that could be used to support the administration’s Mideast plan, unveiled two weeks ago. According to the State Department, some of that money could go toward an “agreement to resume security assistance in the West Bank.” But such an agreement would likely require the Palestinian Authority to accept the Trump plan.

Republican and Democratic administrations have since 1993 provided funding for the PA's security services, which operate under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and work in coordination with Israel to thwart terror attacks in the West Bank. Israel has advocated over the years for continuous U.S. funding for the PA services, because it views the coordination with them as a security asset.

For the first three years of Donald Trump’s presidency, U.S. security assistance to the PA was the only form of aid to the Palestinians not eliminated by the American administration. The PA decided to boycott the Trump administration at the end of 2017, following Trump’s declaration that he had taken Jerusalem “off the table” by recognizing the city as the capital of Israel. The administration retaliated by cutting all aid to the Palestinians, including to hospitals and economic projects in East Jerusalem. 

Even when it punished the Palestinians for their reaction to the Jerusalem declaration, the administration still didn’t cut the security assistance budget, which amounted to $75 million in the current fiscal year. But the administration’s new budget request, which was published on Monday, changes that, and marks the first time that the administration is allocating no funding at all for the PA security services.

A Palestinian flag is waved against the backdrop of a U.S. flag, outside the American Embassy, in London, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020.
Alberto Pezzali,AP

This is likely another form of diplomatic punishment against the PA, this time over its rejection of the administration’s Mideast plan to redraw the borders of Israel, which was published two weeks ago. The plan was unveiled by Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu six weeks before the March 2 Israeli election, and just hours after three criminal indictments against Netanyahu were officially submitted in court. 

Last November, Axios reported that Israeli officials asked the Trump administration to continue funding the PA security services but Trump refused, saying Netanyahu’s government should pay for those forces if their activity was so important to Israel. American support for the security services has also been complicated by the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, a law that passed Congress in 2018 and could expose the PA to massive lawsuits in the United States if it accepts any form of U.S. assistance. 

The administration’s budget request is not in its final version, and since Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives, they will probably try to change the policy on many issues within the budget – including the funding to the PA. On Monday, Democratic members of Congress and senators harshly criticized the budget request for other issues, such as including cuts to social security and Medicaid.