Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah claimed last week that his government has received no aid from Washington in 2016, accusing the US of imposing a “financial siege” on the Palestinians. But the State Department has in fact provided Ramallah with over $357 million in financial assistance in the past year, according to information given to The Times of Israel by a US State Department official on Thursday.

Additionally, in 2016 alone, the US contributed $355,177,827 to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA), of which $95 million was earmarked for the West Bank and Gaza. UNWRA also operates Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

In total, therefore, the US gave around $712 million in aid to Palestinians in 2016, and is the world’s largest supplier of such aid.

Hamdallah told the official PA radio station the Voice of Palestine on December 8 that his government has not seen any of the aid money approved by the US in 2016. He described this as part of a “financial siege” on the Palestinian government. That allegation against the US of failure to pay, according to figures and explanations received by The Times of Israel, is a cynically skewed misrepresentation of the reality.

“Since last year, there is a financial siege on the Palestinian government… For example, let’s speak frankly, the US approved $263 million in 2016 as aid to the government. Look, 2016 is about to end, no shekel or agora, or dinar or dollar has been paid, if we speak frankly. We hope that this aid money will be paid,” he said, according to a translation by Palestinian Media Watch.

Hamdallah then listed and praised countries that he said have given aid to the PA in 2016, and excluded the US.

“The countries that have given their aid, and we always thank them, are the European Union, which always [gives] consistently and according to what is expected. When we plan the budget we know that the EU will pay. We thank Saudi Arabia, as President [Abbas] said at the Seventh Fatah Conference, and we thank Algeria. These are the countries that actually support our budget,” Hamdallah said.

The largest amount of money given to the PA annually from Washington is channeled through the USAID program.

In 2015, the State Department allotted $290 million to the Palestinians through USAID. This money formed the major part of the overall total of $357 million given to the Palestinians in 2016, and was dispensed after congressional approval. That one year delay between the allotment of aid from the USAID program and the actual transfer of the money to the Palestinians has been in place for over a decade.

The sum of $263 million which Hamdallah said the US approved in 2016 but claimed it has not given, therefore, was presumably a reference to the sum allotted by the State Department for payment in 2017, pending congressional approval. In fact, the actual sum Congress is being asked to approve for dispensation in 2017 is $261 million.

Hamdallah’s office wasn’t available for comment on the discrepancy between his allegation and the reality of US aid.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Tuesday, April 21, 2015 (AP/Dita Alangkara)

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Tuesday, April 21, 2015 (AP/Dita Alangkara)

The US does not deliver aid money directly into the PA’s coffers. Instead, to avoid possible misuse of funds, particularly to pay the salaries of convicted terrorists, the US channels aid into specific projects.

For example, the US can directly pay PA contractors who work on water or electricity infrastructure, and pay bills for schools and hospitals.

The $290 million dispensed to the PA via the USAID program in 2016 was spent as follows: $71 million for Gaza humanitarian assistance and water, $41 million for water supply and sanitation, $31 million for economic growth, energy, and private sector development, $31 million for infrastructure, roads and community Infrastructure, $25 million for education and youth and $12 million for democracy and governance. Another $75 million was given for indirect support for debt relief.

In addition to the USAID money, Washington gave the PA $54,824,000 for security and justice assistance. Such funds can cover training and supplies for the Palestinian security forces, as well as training for lawyers and judges. Further funding included $8.7 million under the Middle East Partnership Initiative for West Bank- and Gaza-specific programming; $2.1 million for public diplomacy to support education, civil society and women’s empowerment; and $2.2 million for the English Access Microscholarship Program.

Palestinians receive aid at a United Nations distribution center (UNRWA) in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on July 31, 2014 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinians receive aid at a United Nations distribution center (UNRWA) in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on July 31, 2014 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority’s leaders are open about their policy of providing salaries and other benefits to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including those convicted by Israeli civil courts of murder and terrorism, as well as to their families if they are killed while carrying out their attacks.

But the PA argues that since 2014, these funds have been paid through the Palestine Liberation Organization, not the PA’s own budget, and so are not drawn from foreign donor governments’ development grants. Critics note that the heads of the PA and PLO are the same individuals, and say the PLO uses PA funds for the payments.

US Assistant Secretary of State Anne Patterson told a hearing in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Congress in April, “None of our money goes to this [salaries to prisoners]. It’s not fungible in that respect. Our money goes essentially to pay PA debts to Israel and to other creditors.”

PA under ‘financial siege’

In his December 8 interview, Hamdallah said total aid to the PA has decreased by 62% when compared to 2011.

He said that besides the US, “there are also many [other] countries that have not supplied their aid,” but did not specify which.

The British government’s Department for International Development in October froze part of its aid to the PA over concerns it was being used to fund salaries for convicted Palestinian terrorists.

In September, the German government for the first time admitted that the Palestinian Authority likely grants financial support to terrorists and their families, and vowed to further investigate the matter. It is not clear if Germany has since cut back on funding.

In October, The Times of Israel reported that the Saudis had frozen their $20 million monthly aid package to the PA for six months. It is not clear whether Hamdallah’s praise for Riyadh in his interview means the Saudis have renewed their funding.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.