On Wednesday, we reported that departing President Barack Obama utilized the final few hours of his executive power to release a payment of $221 million to the Palestinian Government. The funds had previously been blocked by GOP lawmakers citing concerns about Palestine’s efforts to seek recognition from various international bodies. Reports now indicate that Donald Trump’s administration has frozen that payment pending further investigation.
According to sources that have requested anonymity, United States officials notified Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah that the funds would not be released in the immediate future on Tuesday evening. The State Department has announced that it is reviewing the decision made by former Secretary of State, John Kerry, as well as former President Barack Obama to send the money to Palestine despite congressional Republicans placing a block on the transfer.
While such blocks are traditionally upheld by the Executive Branch, there is no legal requirement to respect them.
The State Department says it will be reviewing the payment and make adjustments if necessary to ensure the transfer is in keeping with the priorities of Trump’s administration.
The congressional hold placed on the transfer of funds was intended to block the payment to Palestine as a result of a variety of issues GOP Congressmen felt were in violation of American interests in the region, as well as counter-productive toward a lasting peace between Palestine and Israel.
“The easiest way to sum it up is that Congress had been looking at various behaviors from Palestine — unilateral attempts at statehood, corruption, incitement of violence, and paying salaries to people in jail for terrorism — and that’s why the hold has been there,” said Dr. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
He went on to call Obama’s decision to release the funds, “a strange message to send.”
“I was tracking President Obama’s 11th-hour moves on the Palestinians, and this issue never came up once … Most analysts and observers didn’t think Obama would or could do this.”
Representative Kay Granger, a Republican from Texas, was one of the lawmakers that placed a block on the transfer. In a statement to the press, she explained her concerns over Obama and Kerry’s decision to release the funds in the eleventh hour of Obama’s presidency.
“As Chairwoman, I worked to make sure that no American taxpayer dollars would fund the Palestinian Authority unless very strict conditions were met,” she said. “While none of these funds will go to the Palestinian Authority because of those conditions, they will go to programs in the Palestinian territories that were still under review by Congress. The Obama Administration’s decision to release these funds was inappropriate.”
While some saw the decision to release the funds as a repercussion of Obama’s increasingly tense relationship with Israel, due in large part to Israel’s settlement construction in Palestinian claimed territory, others saw the funding of Palestine’s infrastructure as a benefit to Israeli interests.
“This move was very much in Israel’s interests. Ask nearly any Israeli military or intelligence official and they’ll tell you American aid benefiting Palestinians enhances Israeli security,” said Dylan Williams, vice president for government affairs at J Street, a liberal advocacy group with pro-Israel stances.
“When such aid is held up by members of Congress trying to look tough, it creates shortfalls in the basic functions of Palestinian governance that Hamas and other extremists are all too eager to fill,” he added.
The fate of the $221 million earmarked for Palestine is now in the hands of Donald Trump’s administration, but what they intend to do with it remains unclear. Trump has repeatedly emphasized his desire to improve relations with American ally Israel, even suggesting that the US Government may relocate its embassy in the region to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a controversial step that many in the international community have urged him to reconsider.
Because these funds could benefit Israeli security through aiding in the stabilization of the Palestinian government, we may yet see the funds released, or at least a portion of them after adjustments are made by President Trump. On the other hand, the new president may choose to use this situation as a symbolic gesture, severing the final few remaining strings connecting his presidency to his predecessor’s.
Image courtesy of AFP