U.S. State Department Confirms Obama's Last-minute Aid to the Palestinians

The Trump Administration had said the $221 million was under review but officials now say the money has in fact been sent to the Palestinian Authority.

Acting State Department Spokesperson Mark Toner speaks during a news briefing at the State Department in Washington, U.S., March 7, 2017.
JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS

The State Department confirmed on Wednesday that the Obama administration's last-minute transaction of $221 million to the Palestinian Authority in January, which the Trump administration had claimed was "under review," had in fact already been released to the Palestinians.  

"It’s my understanding that the money has been released," State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said during his daily press briefing in reply to a question. 

Toner was also asked about Israel's recently approved law denying entry to supporters of boycotts against Israel and the settlements.

"I refer you to Israel to talk about its law," he said. After being pressed on the matter, he added "We value freedom of expression, even in cases where we don’t agree with the political views espoused. That said, as you’ve noted, that’s Israel’s sovereign decision to make." 

After being presented with yet another question on the matter, Toner replied that "while we oppose boycotts and sanctions of the state of Israel, we also support firmly freedom of expression." He then repeated, however, that this was a "sovereign decision" of Israel's. 

Toner was also asked about remarks earlier this week by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman that the United States had warned Israel not to expand the West Bank settlements.

While not directly confirming that, Toner said: "President Trump, in fact, made clear that he’s committed to working with Israel and Palestinians on a comprehensive peace deal that will allow both sides to live in peace and security they deserve.

"The administration needs to have the chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward and that process is just getting started, but again, to quote the President, he’d like to see a level of reasonableness on the part of both parties with respect to the way forward."

Toner was also asked about the administration's wish to decrease foreign aid spending, and whether that would affect support given to Israel.

"Not going to necessarily say this country or that country," he replied. "I think what I said yesterday was that Secretary Tillerson, when he’s looking at – and I think at the start of a new administration, it’s appropriate time to do such a thing – but when he’s looking at how we’re spending assistance while seeing the value of that assistance, he’s assessing. He’s assessing which countries are receiving, how much assistance they’re receiving, and whether that’s appropriate. So I think that’s across the board. It applies to everyone at this point."