Six Democrats introduce Senate bill to restore humanitarian aid to Palestinians

Resolution sponsor Dianne Feinstein says Trump administration policy ’emboldens extremist groups like Hamas and pushes peace further out of reach’

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California speaks to the media in Washington, DC, on September 27, 2018. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California speaks to the media in Washington, DC, on September 27, 2018. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Six Democratic senators have introduced a resolution to restore US humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Congress appropriated $257.5 million in 2018 for bilateral assistance to the two areas, but the Trump administration has not distributed the money because of perceived intransigence on peace talks by the Palestinians and payments to the families of those who have attacked Israelis.

“President Trump’s refusal to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people is a strategic mistake,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, one of the lawmakers who introduced the measure, said in a statement. “Denying funding for clean water, health care and schools in the West Bank and Gaza won’t make us safer. Instead it only emboldens extremist groups like Hamas and pushes peace further out of reach.”

Along with Feinstein, the resolution was introduced by Senator Jeff Merkely of Oregon along with Senators Chris Coons of Delaware, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.

A Palestinian carries a box of vegetable oil as he walks past bags of flour on a truck donated by USAID, or the United States Agency for International Development, at a depot in the West Bank village of Anin near Jenin, June 4, 2008 (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)

In January 2018, the Trump administration launched a review of all aid going to the Palestinians. In July, the administration said it would redirect all fiscal year 2017 funds to other countries. The Trump administration continues to hold the fiscal year 2018 funds pending the outcome of the review.

Since taking office, US President Donald Trump has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars of aid for Palestinians, including all of its support for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and the nearly $200 million earmarked for humanitarian programs in the West Bank and Gaza.

Last year, the cuts abruptly ended food assistance to 180,000 Palestinians on behalf of the World Food Program, and canceled funding for several health initiatives and hospitals. Infrastructure projects, including desperately needed water treatment facilities in the blockaded Gaza Strip, have also been put on hold in recent months.

In this July 25, 2017 file photo, White House Senior Adviser and envoy, Jared Kushner, listens at right as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The White House says the unprecedented aid cuts are aimed at pressuring the Palestinian Authority, which has rebuffed US peace efforts since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem — which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed — as the capital of their future state.

Unlike his Republican and Democratic predecessors, Trump has notably refused to endorse the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His peace team, led by son-in-law Jared Kushner, has repeatedly pushed back the release of a peace plan it says it is preparing, and it remains unclear when it will be released.

Kushner’s team has said little about its proposal. But its limited public statements have indicated it will call for large amounts of economic investment in the Palestinians, but given no sign that it will include their demand for independence.

On Thursday, Kushner told diplomats the plan would be rolled out after the new Israeli government is sworn in and following the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends June 5.

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