A US State Department spokesman said on Wednesday that some $221 million in held-up Obama Administration funding intended for the Palestinians has now been released, but also indicated that he was not entirely sure about this.
The aid, which was granted to the Palestinians by former US secretary of state John Kerry in the final hours of former US president Barack Obama’s presidency, was frozen by the Trump White House in order to make adjustments to ensure it comports with the new administration’s priorities.
Speaking during a press briefing on Wednesday, acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that to his understanding the money had been released, but also said that the issue was still under review.
“It’s my understanding that the money… has been released,” he said, then added, moments later,: “It remains under review, but I believe the money has been released so I don’t know.” He then said he would “double-check on it.”
Toner said that none of the money would go directly to the Palestinian Authority, but would instead be used for water, infrastructure, education, renewable energy, civil society and municipal governance programs in the West Bank, promotion of the rule of law, recovery efforts in the Gaza Strip, hospitals in East Jerusalem and to pay back Israeli creditors.
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.
US lawmakers are also concerned that aid funds to the Palestinians free up PA funds for a massive program of stipends granted by Ramallah to the families of Palestinian terrorists, including those responsible for the murder of large numbers of Israeli civilians.
Granger released a statement in January 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.”
The Obama administration had for some time been pressing for the release of the money, which comes from the US Agency for International Development and is to be used to fund humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza, to support political and security reforms and to 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, a Palestinian official told The Times of Israel in January, 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.
Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.