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US Congress approves $250m for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programs in omnibus

Funds will go toward coexistence initiatives, projects to bolster the Palestinian economy; are part of a massive package combining COVID relief with 2021 spending

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

Illustrative: Israeli Jews and Palestinians talk to each other during a coexistence meeting in the West Bank, on July 22, 2015 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli Jews and Palestinians talk to each other during a coexistence meeting in the West Bank, on July 22, 2015 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The US Congress on Monday night approved $250 million in funding for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programs and Palestinian business development, as part of a $2.3 trillion spending package that combines coronavirus relief with funding for the US government through the end of the fiscal year.

The $250 million will establish the Nita Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Fund, named after the retiring Democratic Congresswoman who championed the bipartisan initiative along with Republican Jeff Fortenberry in the House and Democrat Chris Coons and Republican Lindsey Graham in the Senate.

The funding will be spread out evenly over five years and will go toward expanding peace and reconciliation programs in the region in addition to projects aimed at bolstering the Palestinian economy.

The Alliance for Middle East Peace, an umbrella group for dialogue programs, led lobbying for the funding.

Participants of the Teachers’ Lounge coexistence project, at the home of an Arab participant in East Jerusalem. (Courtesy: Eyal Tagar)

ALLMEP’s executive director John Lyndon said in a statement that the approval was the culmination of over a decade of efforts.

“With Israelis and Palestinians more polarized than ever, this fund can radically scale programs designed to upend that reality, creating the relationships, movements and leaders that any just and equitable peace depends upon,” he said.

“We are also excited about the opportunity this legislation opens for a genuinely multilateral strategy, allowing the US to lead on the creation of a new, inclusive and institutionalized approach to peace-building alongside its global allies,” he added.

The Middle East Partnership for Peace Fund also won the support of a broad array of pro-Israel groups that lobbied for its passage, including AIPAC, J Street and Democratic Majority for Israel.

The omnibus bill also included provisions allocating annual spending for Israel’s military aid along with millions of dollars for joint US-Israeli programs promoting cooperation in COVID-19 research, sustainable international development, water, energy and cyber.

This includes $2 million for the Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation supporting US-Israel energy cooperative programs. In October, Israel and the US signed an agreement that removed all previous geographic restrictions on such scientific cooperation initiatives, allowing BIRD funding to be used at Israeli academic institutions beyond the Green Line.

The $2.3 trillion spending bill is slated to be signed into law by US President Donald Trump as early as later Tuesday afternoon.

House Appropriations Committee chair Nita Lowey, a Democrat of New York, is questioned by reporters at the Capitol in Washington, March 13, 2020. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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