- Alex Wong/Getty Images
On Tuesday, the state department under President Donald Trump announced it would review one of Barack Obama’s final acts as US president – the release of $221 million to the Palestinian Authority.
Obama’s move, came as a shock to many. The funds had congressional holds on them, which don’t legally bind the president but have historically been respected.
It appears that Trump’s decision to review Obama’s release of the funds comes down to his heavily pro-Israel agenda.
Trump, who took office just hours after Obama’s decision, has taken a hard line against the Palestinians, describing their funding of terrorism and the larger situation in the West Bank and Gaza as a “deplorable, deplorable situation”, in remarks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March.
The $221 million released by Obama, and subsequently halted by Trump, is part of the US’s regularly scheduled aid to Palestine, which totaled $557 million from all US government agencies in 2015.
The US, and even Israel, provide funds to the Palestinian Authority because the government’s stability contributes to Israel’s security, Michael Koplow, a Middle East analyst at the Israel Policy Forum, told Business Insider.
The relative stability of the West Bank, which has not become “a haven for terrorism and a launching ground for rocket attacks,” unlike Gaza, can be credited to the cooperation of the Israeli Defense Forces and the Palestinian Authority security forces, according to Koplow.
“The IDF and the Israeli government are the biggest lobbyists of Congress in favor of continuing Palestinian aid,” Koplow added.
According to Koplow, though the Israelis and their supporters in the US may condemn the Palestinian Authority and their actions, they continually fund and prop up the organization for a lack of a better alternative.
- REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
“Should the PA collapse, the scenarios range from the Israeli military having to reenter the entirety of the West Bank to a complete Hamas takeover. Both the US and Israel are willing to put up with and fund Palestinian Authority corruption, ineffective government, and incitement in order to ensure the security cooperation that safeguards Israeli security,” said Koplow.
However, a few GOP lawmakers decided to draw the line on the $221 million Obama intended to send to the PA.
Two GOP lawmakers Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Kay Granger of Texas, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, had placed holds on the funds as the Palestinian Authority had pursued “a unilateral tract towards statehood and they were not trying to work with Israel,” said Schanzer.
By putting the payment under review, the Trump administration seems to be siding with the GOP lawmakers, and the Israelis themselves, who recently moved to reduce their support to the Palestinian Authority after a wave of attacks on Israelis in the West Bank this month.
- Yannis Behrakis/Reuters
Indeed, the Palestinians have been making unilateral pushes for statehood, but the Israelis had also pushed forward with initiatives that troubled the Obama administration. The Obama administration made as much clear in December, when the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Israel stop building settlements on Palestinian land.
The US refused to vote on the resolution, effectively allowing it to pass.
Trump quickly and sharply criticized this move. “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect,” Trump tweeted. “They used to have a great friend in the US, but … not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (UN)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”
Koplow said Obama likely felt “frustration with Israeli settlement activity despite repeated pleas from the White House and the State Department.” This frustration was “compounded to an unprecedented degree by the Israeli Regulation Bill – which will legalize every unauthorized outpost and building in the West Bank that are currently illegal under Israeli law,” said Koplow.
The bill has only made it through the preliminary stages of Israel’s legislature, but has upset Washington and many in the international community nonetheless.
So while the Palestinian Authority remains corrupt, and a sponsor of terror, the decision on the Israelis part to attempt to barrel ahead with the settlements in the West Bank likely prompted Obama’s decision to try to release the funds in his final hours.
Meanwhile, President Trump has repeatedly floated the idea of moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which PA President Mahmoud Abbas has urged against. His administration will review the funding and possibly adjust it should it clash with his strategy in the region, the Associated Press reports.