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Top Republican releases remaining Palestinian aid he held up for months

Senator Jim Risch approves payment of last $20 million of $75 million package pledged by Biden, but insists it be reprogrammed for food aid, not funneled to terrorists

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

A Palestinian pupil walks past United Nations Relief and Works Agency, (UNRWA) and USAID humanitarian aid, on June 6, 2010 in the Shatie refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)
A Palestinian pupil walks past United Nations Relief and Works Agency, (UNRWA) and USAID humanitarian aid, on June 6, 2010 in the Shatie refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)

A top Senate Republican agreed Wednesday to release the remainder of humanitarian funds that he had been holding up since the Biden administration allocated them to the Palestinians last spring, his office told The Times of Israel on Wednesday night.

A spokesperson for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch said that the senator had agreed to release $20 million in aid he had been holding, “as long as it is reprogrammed to be used for food aid, and will not be in the hands of terrorists.”

Risch initially held up all $75 million in humanitarian assistance that the Biden administration earmarked for the Palestinians last March. In the months that followed, he released roughly $55 million of that aid in two separate approvals.

The ranking Republican member has repeatedly expressed his apprehension over the aid, warning that it could be funneled into use for non-humanitarian causes. The Biden administration has insisted that the funds are strenuously vetted and are only allowed to reach approved humanitarian groups and NGOS, and not the Palestinian Authority, given the PA’s ongoing welfare policy, which includes regular payments to security prisoners who carried out attacks against Israelis.

The first $25 million released by Risch in the late spring went to the Palestinian hospital network, community engagement programs and other humanitarian assistance. The next $30 million released in the summer was earmarked for water supply and sanitation in Gaza. Most of the final $20 million released by Risch on Wednesday had been slated to go toward infrastructure projects for the Palestinians, but had been reprogrammed as food aid, following the Republican’s concerns that the funding would’ve been misused, a Congressional aide told The Times of Israel.

Had the aid not been spent by the end of September, it would have expired. In total, the Biden administration has allocated roughly $400 million in humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians through various programs after funding was all but eliminated by the Trump administration as Ramallah refused to cooperate with its peace efforts, viewed by the PA and much of the international community as biased in favor of Israel.

In this January 30, 2019, photo, from left, OAS Special Representative Gustavo Tarre Briceno, Venezuelan opposition’s new envoy in Washington Carlos Vecchio, Senator James Risch and Senator Rick Scott listen to a question from a reporter at a news conference following a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Democrats had been pressuring Risch for months to release the aid. Rep. Jamie Raskin spearheaded a letter to Risch in June asking him to stop blocking the assistance, citing a “desperate” need in the wake of the Gaza war a month earlier.

“We write with a great sense of urgency to respectfully request that you release your hold on tens of millions of dollars in appropriated humanitarian aid that is so desperately needed to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of civilians suffering in Gaza and the West Bank in the wake of the horrific violence that took place in the last several weeks,” the letter signed by 145 House Democrats read.

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