In the final hours of the Obama administration, the order was given to release $221 million to Palestine that had been placed in holds by Republican members of Congress.
Departing Secretary of State John Kerry notified lawmakers shortly before departing his offices for the final time, and a formal notice was submitted to Congress by the White House dated January 20th, and delivered hours before Donald Trump took his oath of office.
In addition to the funding sent to the Palestinian Authorities, an additional $6 million was disbursed to other foreign organizations and the United Nations, intended for climate change research and the U.N. Peace Building fund.
The funds had initially been approved by Congress in both 2015 and 2016, before having holds placed on them by GOP Congressmen Ed Royce of California and Kay Granger of Texas. Royce serves as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Granger is a member of House Appropriations Committee. The holds were placed on the funds as a result of Palestine’s efforts to attain membership in a number of international organizations.
Although Congressional holds on funds such as this tend to be respected by the executive branch, President Obama had no legal obligation to uphold the spending freeze put in place. The Obama administration had pressed the GOP on more than one occasion to remove the holds to no avail, and as the world prepared from the transition of power from Obama to Trump, he gave the order to release the funds.
The $221 million is intended to be used for humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza. The official notification Obama’s team sent to congress claimed it would “support political and security reforms as well as help prepare for good governance and the rule of law in a future Palestinian state.”
Obama clearly felt the need to push the funding through, as Donald Trump has taken a clearly pro-Israel stance and likely would not have authorized the disbursement. Only weeks before leaving office, Obama also ordered the United States to abstain from a vote that demanded Israel stop building settlements that encroach on Palestinian land, a move many critics called “anti-Israel” but that U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power defended in UN chambers.
“This resolution reflects trends that will permanently destroy the two state solution if they continue on their current course,” Power said her speech. “Our vote today does not in any way diminish the United States’ steadfast and unparalleled commitment to the security of Israel,” she added.
During his campaign, President Trump promised to relocate the US embassy, currently located in Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem, a move many have claimed would be counterproductive to lasting peace talks in the region, with some Muslim leaders going so far as to say the move would be like “declaring open war against Islam.” Calmer minds on both sides of the aisle have agreed that it would certainly affect ongoing efforts to find a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, made it clear, however, that a final decision has not yet been made regarding the potential move.
President Trump has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit him in Washington D.C. next month, where these issues will almost certainly be the subject of conversation, as well Obama’s parting gift to Israel’s political and often military opponent, Palestine.
Author’s update: A Palestinian source has claimed that the funds Obama ordered dispersed have been frozen by the US Government. The claim has yet to be thoroughly vetted and substantiated, but appears accurate. As more information becomes available, SOFREP will provide updates to the situation.
Image courtesy of Getty Images