Fulfilling a campaign promise to restore aid to the Palestinians cut off by President Trump, President Biden announced plans to provide the Palestinians with $290 million in assistance. The State Department insisted the allocation was consistent with U.S. law though some members of Congress said it violated the Taylor Force Act which prohibits U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until it ends its pay-to-slay policy of providing stipends to terrorists in Israeli jails and the families of suicide bombers.
At the end of March 2021, the administration announced it was providing $15 million in coronavirus assistance and another $75 million in assistance for infrastructure, health, and civil society groups. At the beginning of April, the administration informed lawmakers that it would give the Palestinians $40 million for law enforcement and security and another $10 million for peacebuilding programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
“Supporting an enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a core U.S. national security objective,” the State Department said in the notification. “As an essential part of this effort, U.S. government assistance seeks to build professional and accountable security and criminal justice institutions that maintain security and stability in the West Bank, uphold the rule of law, contribute directly to regional security, and protect the population.”
Denying that the resumption of aid violated the Taylor Force Act, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said, “President Biden was actually in Israel about a mile and a half from Taylor Force when he was murdered, and he spoke out about that immediately and has been a forceful advocate for doing justice by Taylor Force and making sure that we are making good on the obligations that we have under the Taylor Force Act.”
Even while many of Israel’s supporters objected to U.S. aid, Israel agreed to loan $155 million to the PA despite its own law against providing assistance so long as the pay-to-slay policy continued. Those funds, however, were to be repaid from tax revenues Israel withheld based on an Israeli law requiring the government to offset payments made by the PA to terrorists and their families.
The State Department also announced resumption of support for UNRWA. The department said the contribution of $150 million to the agency was needed for UNRWA services. It also justified the reversal of policy by stating “the United States needs to be at the table to ensure that the reforms advance efficiencies and are in accord with our interests and values.”
The department also stated:
Contradicting the claim that the aid aligns with the interests of our allies, Israel’s foreign ministry said of the aid to UNRWA, “Israel’s position is that the organization in its current form perpetuates the conflict and does not contribute to its resolution.” Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, was more explicit: “I have expressed my disappointment and objection to the decision to renew UNRWA’s funding without first ensuring that certain reforms, including stopping the incitement and removing anti-Semitic content from its educational curriculum, are carried out.”
An administration official subsequently said: “UNWRA has made clear their rock-solid commitments to the United States on the issues of transparency, accountability, and neutrality in all its operations.... And what neutrality means in the context of the United Nations is zero tolerance for racism, discrimination, and anti-Semitism.”
UNRWA has made, and failed to deliver on, similar promises in the past and shortly after the U.S. announcement, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the organization for teaching hate and violence in PA schools. UNRWA ignored similar resolutions adopted by the EU the year before. Norway went further and, in December 2020, voted to cut financial assistance because of the anti-Semitic and violent content of its educational materials.
The department called on other donors to “support programs and activities that work toward a common goal of stability and progress for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
The resumption of aid came despite a Government Accountability Office report that found the U.S. government had not properly vetted all of its Palestinian funding recipients for U.S. antiterrorism criteria as required by law.
Following the ceasefire in the war between Hamas and Israel, the United States pledged $38 million in new assistance to support humanitarian efforts in the West Bank and Gaza, including $33 for UNRWA), and an additional $5.5 million to humanitarian partners. “This critical assistance will support humanitarian organizations to provide emergency shelter, food, relief items, and health care, as well as mental health and psychosocial support for those who experienced trauma,” Blinken announced on May 26, 2021.
He said the State Department and USAID also plan to provide $75 million in additional development and economic assistance to “advance private sector growth and access to basic needs and services, such as providing health care and addressing food insecurity.” Blinken said “another $10 million will support programs that support reconciliation work to reduce tension and violence over the long term.”
This brings total U.S. assistance to more than $360 million. He insisted the funds will “be administered in a way that benefit the Palestinian people — not Hamas” and is “consistent with applicable U.S. law, including the Taylor Force Act.”
As of July 2021, millions of dollars in aid was being held up by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) to prevent it from being used for the Palestinians’ “pay to slay” program.
As for reconstruction aid for Gaza, Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, assured members of Congress it could not be diverted by Hamas because “Anything that goes into Gaza… goes through that very stringent vetting process that the Israeli government itself presides over.” Israel’s department for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) must approve any materials that are sent through the border crossing into the Gaza Strip, and that grantees, sub-grantees and sub-sub-grantees must pass “the most elaborate set of vetting procedures that [U.S. has] anywhere in the world,” Power said.
On July 14, 2021, UNRWA signed an agreement with the United States in which the former said it was committed to ensuring that its funds were not transferred to individuals engaged in terrorism or used to support terrorism. The agreement also said, “The United States and UNRWA unreservedly condemn all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnicity or religious belief, including anti-Semitism.” A few days later, the United States transferred $135 million to the agency.
In March 2022, Congress approved $219 million in Palestinian aid for 2022. This was less than the $225 million the House and Senate initially proposed but more than President Joe Biden’s request.
Sources: Matthew Lee, “US boosts aid to Palestinians as some in Congress cry foul,” AP, (April 6, 2021).
“The United States Restores Assistance for the Palestinians,” U.S. State Department, (April 7, 2021).
Tovah Lazaroff, “Israel slams Biden's resumption of UNRWA funding for Palestinians,” Jerusalem Post, (April 8, 2021).
“After restoring aid to Palestinians, Biden endorses two-state solution,” Times of Israel, (April 8, 2021).
Ron Kampeas, “Biden administration says it has UNRWA’s commitment to ‘zero tolerance’ for anti-Semitism,” JTA, (April 12, 2021).
Marc Rod, “Blinken vows not to roll back Iran sanctions before nuclear compliance,” JewishInsider, (March 10, 2021).
“EU Parliament condemns UNRWA for 'hate speech and violence' taught in PA schools,” i24News, (April 28, 2021).
Antony J. Blinken, “U.S. Assistance for the Palestinian People,” Press Statement, U.S. Department of State, (May 26, 2021).
Marc Rod “Power emphasizes Israeli role in clearing Gaza aid during latest congressional hearings,” JewishInsider, (July 15, 2021).
“Washington gives $135 million to UNRWA after agency condemns anti-Israel hate,” i24NEWS, (July 18, 2021).
Judah Ari Gross, “Israel agrees to send NIS 500 million to PA, bypassing terror stipend freeze,” Times of Israel, (August 30, 2021).
Marc Rod, “Spending bill includes funding for nonprofit security, Iron Dome, support for Abraham Accords,” JewishInsider, (March 10, 2022).
Marc Rod, “Israel enthusiastic about U.S. resuming Palestinian aid, Power tells Congress,” JewishInsider, (May 18, 2022).