WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has directed an additional $20 million for the Palestinian Authority, to go to wastewater projects in the West Bank and Gaza, a White House official told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.
After funds initially allocated for an economic aid package to Egypt were frozen in August over that country’s poor record on democracy and civil liberties, the State Department and National Security Council decided six weeks ago to re-distribute that money toward West Bank initiatives, the official said.
“Egypt is a key strategic partner of the United States, and the administration is committed to strengthening our bilateral relationship,” a State Department official told The Times of Israel. “We remain concerned, however, about Egypt’s lack of progress in key areas. The secretary has thus decided to reprogram assistance from Egypt.”
If those specific funds — which were part of a Fiscal Year 2016 budget allocation — were not transferred, they would have evaporated at the end of September, when the fiscal year ends and such an appropriation would expire.
Both the White House and State Department sources denied that the looming passage of the Taylor Force Act, which is set to be voted on in December, was the impetus for re-directing that money.
The State Department official said: “The Trump Administration supports the Taylor Force Act and similar legislation and is working with Congress as the legislation takes its final form.” Earlier this month, the White House formally announced its backing of the bill.
Jewish Insider, which first reported the re-allocation, had quoted an unnamed Congressional aide who said the White House “is trying to get money out of the door before Taylor Force goes into effect.”
But administration sources said that was not the case.
“The $20 million in question was part of the reprogramming out of the Egyptian account, a decision that was made on a totally different level,” the official said on Wednesday. “The urgency was the end of September date, not the Taylor Force Act.”
The State Department official said that President Trump had instructed his administration to find ways to contribute to economic growth in the West Bank and Gaza, and address the dire humanitarian situation in the coastal enclave.”The two water projects under consideration here are part of that initiative, and the urgency around implementing them had to do with the FY2016 funds expiring on Sept. 30, not because we were trying to subvert TFA.,” he said.
The White House source also emphasized those funds would be routed to specific programs that were supported by Israel and designed to enhance West Bank Palestinians’ quality of life.
“To be clear, this is not money that we are giving unfettered to the Palestinian Authority” of Mahmoud Abbas. “This is money that’s going to be used to complete very important sanitation projects that benefit the Palestinian people,” the official said.
“These projects that specifically improve the lives of the Palestinian people are supported by the Israelis, because the wastewater issue is an issue for them, too.”
The Taylor Force Act, which passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, would cut US funding to the PA if it doesn’t cease what critics call its program of compensating terrorists and their families.
The Palestine Liberation Organization has condemned it, saying shortly after its committee passage that the legislation was “unacceptable” and would violate Palestinians’ human rights.
Named after a former US army officer who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian assailant when visiting Tel Aviv in March 2016, the bill was added earlier this month onto a larger appropriations bill slated for a December vote, in a bid to increase its chances of passing the Senate during the current legislative session.
In a talk Monday to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee’s annual meeting at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Trump’s special peace envoy Jason Greenblatt spoke about the administration’s hope to get more water and better sanitation in the Palestinian territories.
An “area on which the United States and our partners are focused is wastewater treatment and reuse in the West Bank and Gaza,” he said, although he did not explicitly mention the $20 million that was being funneled for such projects.
Earlier this year, Congressional Republicans were highly critical of a similar Obama administration decision to quietly authorize $221 million for Palestinian programs during the former president’s final hours in office.
Trump officials went on to inform the Palestinian Authority that it had frozen the funds just days after he entered the White House.