U.S. Lawmakers Push Bipartisan Bill for $50 Million in Palestinian Aid, Coexistence Programs

As Trump administration's Mideast plan hits roadblock, Congress seeks to allocate $50 million over five years to create new fund for economic development and Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 1, 2019.
J. Scott Applewhite,AP

WASHINGTON — With the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan hitting a major roadblock after the announcement of new elections in Israel, Congress is taking its own initiative.

Senators and representatives from both parties reintroduced a bill Wednesday that would allocate $50 million to investments in the Palestinian economy, as well as to programs that promote peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

The bill to create a “Partnership Fund for Peace” between Israelis and Palestinians was first introduced last October, in the very last days of the previous Congress. A new version of it was presented by representatives Nita Lowey (Democrat of New York) and Jeff Fortenberry (Republican of Nebraska) and by senators Tim Kaine (Democrat of Virginia), Lindsey Graham (Republican of South Carolina), Chris Coons (Democrat of Delaware) and Cory Gardner (Republican of Colorado).

This is a rare instance of bipartisan cooperation on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, at a time when new peace negotiations seem remote.

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Sen. Chris Coons (Democrat of Delaware) speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 19, 2019.
Jacquelyn Martin,AP

According to the bill, Congress will create a fund to promote “joint economic development and finance ventures between Palestinian entrepreneurs and companies and those in the United States and Israel to improve economic cooperation and people-to-people peace-building programs, and to further shared community building, peaceful coexistence, dialogue, and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The proposed fund would work under the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department.

Unlike the version of the bill introduced last year, the current version contains a detailed proposal for how the fund will work, who will manage it and how its budget will be decided. Among the aims of the fund: “To improve the quality of life, stimulate the economy, and advance security by creating private sector jobs for Palestinians in the Palestinian territories and furthering the development of a Palestinian middle class.”

Another major goal of the proposed fund will be to support “people-to-people” activities between Israelis and Palestinians, by supporting Israeli, Palestinian and international nongovernmental organizations that “bring Palestinians and Israelis together for shared community building, peaceful coexistence, dialogue, and reconciliation.”

Organizations that promote coexistence within Israel itself, between the country’s Arab and Jewish citizens, will also be eligible for support from the fund.

It should be noted that the Palestinian Authority or any governmental organizations operating under it will not be able to receive funding.

The bill is supported by leading Jewish-American organizations such as the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. The bill is also supported by AIPAC, the most influential lobby group supporting Israel in the United States.

Joel Braunold, executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace — an umbrella organization for “people-to-people” groups operating in Israel and the Palestinian territories — said Wednesday: “Congressional leadership has been vital for the entire people-to-people community, allocating over $100 million to grassroots efforts over the past decade. The Fund is the next logical step on the journey, learning from what has worked and what we need to do to ensure that we are laying the foundations for a peace based on the values we share rather than the people we fear.”

Braunold added that "the updated version of the Partnership for Peace Fund builds on the concept of previous efforts and goes into depth about how a fund focused on peace-building and shared economic development with a multilateral element would work in practice. Congress has always played a leading role in guiding how U.S. assistance can support U.S. objectives and this bill furthers that leadership, providing long-term resources for this generation and those to come".