Palestinians say Obama’s last-minute $221 million payout frozen by Trump
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Palestinians say Obama’s last-minute $221 million payout frozen by Trump

Source says State Department has notified Ramallah the funds will not be immediately available, while it examines the transfer

US President Barack Obama right) greets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their bilateral meeting at UN headquarters, September 24, 2013. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama right) greets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their bilateral meeting at UN headquarters, September 24, 2013. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The Trump administration has informed the Palestinian Authority that it is freezing the transfer of $221 million which was quietly authorized by the Obama administration in its final hours on January 20, a senior Palestinian source has told The Times of Israel.

US officials conveyed to PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Tuesday that the funds were not expected to be handed over in the immediate future, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

On Tuesday, the State Department said it was reviewing the last-minute decision by former secretary of state John Kerry to send the funds to the Palestinians despite objections to the transfer by congressional Republicans.

The department said it would look at the payment and might make adjustments to ensure it comports with the Trump administration’s priorities.

U.S Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

The Obama administration had for some time been pressing for the release of the money for the Palestinian Authority, which comes from the US Agency for International Development, known as USAID, and is to be used for humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza to support political and security reforms, as well as help prepare for good governance and the rule of law in a future Palestinian state, according to the notification sent to Congress.

Even without the $221 million, the Palestinian source noted that in 2016 the PA received $250 million from the US government.

These funds included $180 million from USAID, $25 million to support Palestinian hospitals and $45 million to pay for fuel purchased from Israel.

Congress had initially approved the Palestinian funding in budget years 2015 and 2016, but at least 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 it over moves the Palestinian Authority had taken to seek membership in international organizations. Congressional holds are generally respected by the executive branch but are not legally binding after funds have been allocated.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah speaks during a press conference in the West Bank City of Ramallah, Monday, January 16, 2017 (Flash90)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah speaks during a press conference in the West Bank City of Ramallah, Monday, January 16, 2017 (Flash90)

Kerry formally notified Congress that State would release the extra $221 million money Friday morning, just hours before President Donald Trump took the oath of office.

Granger released a statement Tuesday saying, “I am deeply disappointed that President Obama defied congressional oversight and released $221 million to the Palestinian territories.”

She added: “I worked to make sure that no American taxpayer dollars would fund the Palestinian Authority unless very strict conditions were met. 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.”

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