A group of Democratic members of Congress urged U.S. President Trump on Wednesday to reveal his administration's full policy on funding humanitarian projects in the Palestinian territories. The lawmakers claimed in their letter that "all U.S. assistance, including lifesaving humanitarian aid, has been frozen since January 2018," and blamed the administration for a lack of transparency on the subject.
The lawmakers, all members of the sub-committee on the Middle East in the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that the funding freeze for humanitarian projects in the Palestinian territories could lead to a humanitarian crisis and cause a security deterioration.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced that it is conducting a "review" of all U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority. In recent months, a number of administration officials who testified before Congress were asked about the progress of that review, but all answered they could not provide any specific details. As a result, Congress has not received any update on the state of U.S. funding aimed at humanitarian projects in the West Bank and Gaza.
"We are deeply concerned that there seems to be no information available to Members of Congress as to the nature, scope, or duration of this assistance review," the Democratic legislators wrote to Trump in their letter. "We support the need for oversight of our assistance programs," they added, "however, it is unnecessary to withhold funding while conducting this review."
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They further warned that "the impact of the U.S. funding freeze could be catastrophic: 140,000 people will cease to receive emergency food and non-food assistance, 42,000 patients will not receive essential health services, 50,000 youths will lack access to life skills development, and 12,250 people will lose paid entrepreneurship opportunities."
The legislators also warned that non-governmental organizations in the West Bank who promote co-existence programs between Jews and Arabs, could be shut down as a result of losing U.S. Government support. "Many of these programs bring together Palestinians and Israelis for direct people to people engagement, which the United States has long recognized is vital to furthering the goal of peace with two states for two people living side by side," the legislators wrote.
They ended their letter by demanding an update from the administration on the assistance review, including "benchmarks by which the review is being measured, and a timeline for the conclusion of the review."
The funds being reviewed encompass hundreds of millions of dollars which were meant to support humanitarian and economic projects, mostly in the West Bank. The Trump administration also decided last year to cut tens of millions of dollars from the budget of UNRWA, the United Nations Agency in charge of assisting Palestinian refugees and their descendants. UNRWA operates schools, medical clinics and welfare services on a massive scale in Gaza, the West Bank and countries such as Jordan and Lebanon.