WASHINGTON (JTA) — A number of pro-Israel groups, Israeli officials and Republicans in Congress are stepping up their scrutiny of the Biden administration’s plans to resume funding for the Palestinian Authority and other groups aiding Palestinians.
In the past two weeks, the Biden administration has rolled out pledges to deliver $75 million in assistance to Palestinian areas; $40 million for security assistance to the Palestinian Authority; $150 million to the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA; and $15 million for COVID assistance. Also pledged is $10 million that goes to Palestinian-Israeli people-to-people programs.
US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have said the spending will comply with congressional restrictions, and comply with laws banning (with a few exceptions) direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority as long as it pays subsidies to the families of Palestinians who have killed Israelis or Palestinians — a longstanding PA policy.
That’s not enough to assuage skeptics, who cite a government watchdog report released last week that said that, from 2015 to 2019, US aid officials did not sufficiently verify whether money meant to reach only nongovernmental organizations in fact ended up with terrorists.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spearheaded a letter to Biden on Thursday from 18 Republican senators urging the Biden administration to pause the disbursement of assistance to the West Bank and Gaza Strip subject to further congressional scrutiny.
Cruz and the other senators want the Biden administration to assure Congress that “necessary aid being provided to the Palestinians, including as envisioned b Congress and described in the Taylor Force Act, is tightly targeted to ensure that it benefits the Palestinian people and not the PA or Hamas.” The Taylor Force Act, named for an American victim of a terrorist attack, is a law that conditions aid to Palestinians over whether the Palestinian Authority suspends funding for killers of Israelis and Americans.
Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, his counterpart in the US House of Representatives, on Wednesday pledged “to scrutinize every proposed program to ensure the administration’s actions are in lockstep with the Taylor Force Act.”
The Jerusalem Post reported that Risch and McCaul have used their positions on their respective committees to delay the disbursement of the funds.
Former president Donald Trump suspended most aid to the Palestinians in 2018, in part because the Palestinians snubbed his moves to initiate Middle East peace and in part because of the payments that go to killers of Israelis and Americans. Biden campaigned on resuming funding to the Palestinians, saying it was critical for humanitarian reasons and to restore American credibility in the region.
“UNRWA remains in desperate need of fundamental reform,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee tweeted Wednesday. “Its waste, fraud, resistance to reform & internal turmoil make it among the most inefficient UN agencies. Moreover, UNRWA’s misguided definition of refugees directly contributes to prolonging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
In a statement unusual for a diplomat, Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan denounced the resumption of funding to UNRWA — or the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees — absent reforms in the agency. The Orthodox Union also sent a letter to Blinken questioning the resumption of assistance to the West Bank and Gaza. The Zionist Organization of America has additionally objected to the new funding.
Liberal pro-Israel groups, including J Street and Americans for Peace Now, have praised the resumption of assistance, as have Democrats who are known for their closeness to the pro-Israel community, including Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla.
Deutch, who is Jewish, chairs the Middle East subcommittee in the House.
“Despite my serious concerns about transparency and accountability at UNRWA, withholding assistance that provides healthcare & education to children during a global pandemic risks further deteriorating an already dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza made worse by Hamas,” Deutch said on Twitter.
The women’s Zionist organization Hadassah, the Anti-Defamation League and an array of other Jewish groups are rallying senators to sign a letter to the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, urging him to reform UNRWA’s schools, which they say peddle anti-Semitic slanders in textbooks.
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