The US State Department announced on Friday that nearly $500 million in aid had been unblocked for transfer to the Palestinian Authority, months after Congress froze the funds in late-2012.
“To date, we have moved $295.7 million in fiscal year 2012 money… and $200 million in fiscal year 2013 assistance,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
The announcement came on the heels of US President Barack Obama’s first trip to Israel and the West Bank since assuming office in 2009.
The Palestinian Authority has been in the grips of a deep economic crisis, largely due to promised aid going undelivered. Additionally, Israel has stopped delivering Palestinian tax revenues to the PA — with the exception of a one-time payment of $100 million in January — following Palestine’s approved petition for non-member observer state status at the UN last November.
The Obama administration has been pushing for release of Congressional aid funds for some time, and it was unclear if any conditions were placed on the PA in exchange for delivery.
In a meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday in Ramallah, however, Obama reportedly asked the Palestinian leader to refrain from turning to the International Criminal Court “for any reason,” including settlement expansion. The PA has consistently threatened to address its grievances against Israel at the Hague in recent months.
According to London-based daily Asharq Al-Awsat, Abbas said he would turn to the Court if Israel began to build in the controversial E1 corridor that connects East Jerusalem with the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim, but that he would wait two months before doing so. Israel announced plans to build in the area after Abbas’s unilateral move for a status upgrade at the UN.
In an apparent reversal from his first-term policy of supporting a settlement freeze, Obama stated Thursday that Palestinians cannot expect for Israel to agree to preconditions for negotiations. The New York Times also reported a softening in Abbas’s position, citing talking points leaked before the PA leader’s meeting with the US president. According to the report, Abbas is so eager to resume peace negotiations that he is now willing to forgo a public Israeli announcement of a settlement freeze.