Senate Introduces Bill to Allocate $75 Million to Palestinian Authority Security Forces

The legislation, if approved, would provide important financial support for PA forces that work in coordination with Israel to foil terror attacks in the West Bank

U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, September 9, 2019.
AFP

WASHINGTON – Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is promoting a new legislation to transfer $75 million to the Palestinian Authority to boost Palestinian security forces.

The legislation, if approved, would provide important financial support for PA forces, which operate under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and work in coordination with Israel to thwart terror attacks in the West Bank.

The proposed legislation, which was published by Graham's office last week, is part of the 2020 State and Foreign Operations bill, which allocates funding to foreign policy and U.S. national security interests worldwide.

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The sum proposed in the bill is much higher than the assistance the United States has provided to PA forces in the past, which usually revolved around $35 million. Over the past two years, the Trump administration cut all forms of U.S. civil assistance to the Palestinians, but refrained from slashing security assistance.

In 2018, the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act [ATCA] bill was passed by Congress, threatening to end U.S. security assistance to the PA and harm Israeli and Palestinian security coordination.

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.

The law also led the U.S. administration to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from various aid programs to the Palestinians.

Before the ATCA passed, the American administration cut all U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, including to hospitals in East Jerusalem that treat cancer patients. However, the administration however, didn't cut the money intended for security assistance partly because of requests by Israeli and Jordanian officials not to harm the efficiency of Palestinian security forces.

By enshrining the ATCA in law, the Trump administration approved a legislation that contradicted its official support for Palestinian security forces. The White House was not fully aware of the ramifications of the law, which was pushed by one of Trump's personal attorneys, Jay Sekulow.

By the time Trump's Middle East peace team realized that Trump had signed a law that could endanger Israeli-Palestinian security coordination, one of the very last examples of successful coordination between both parties, it was too late.

That's what led to an almost year-long effort to find a solution that would allow the continuation of the security assistance between Israel and the PA, which is now part of Graham's legislation. But while a solution has been found for the PA's security budget, many other issues influenced by slashed U.S. aid have yet to be resolved.

The bill proposed by Graham became feasible due to a legal bypass, allowing the PA to accept U.S. aid meant for its security forces, without subjecting itself to massive lawsuits in American courts. This circumvention was quietly supported by prominent pro-Israeli organizations in Washington.

Earlier this year, the PA told the U.S. that it would rather renounce any type of U.S. assistance, including the tens of millions given annually to its security forces, in order to avoid lawsuits that could make it go bankrupt. This caused serious concern among Israeli security officials, who benefit from the security coordination with PA forces and view those forces as a contributing factor to the stability in the West Bank.

The bill still needs to win support in Congress. American sources involved in discussions over the bill told Haaretz they expect it to pass, especially now that the Trump administration is once again considering releasing its Middle East peace plan.

One of the sources involved in the legislation told Haaretz last week that "the fact that the committee saw fit to fix only security assistance speaks volumes to what its priorities are, despite the fact that non-security assistance to the Palestinians traditionally dwarfed the amount of security aid."