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US fills board that’ll dish out $250m for Israel-Palestine peace-building projects

Partnership for Peace Fund Advisory Board will be chaired by Palestinian-American lawyer George Salem along with other prominent figures in field from both sides of the aisle

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 Agency for International Development on Friday announced the appointment of an advisory board that will be tasked with recommending how to distribute $250 million in US funding for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programs and Palestinian business development.

The filling of the board allows the Biden administration to move forward in supporting people-to-people projects on the ground after the funds were allocated through the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA) that was passed by Congress in December 2020.

The advisory panel includes a politically diverse array of experts in fields related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will be chaired by George Salem, a Palestinian-American attorney who filled roles in the Reagan and Bush administrations and later was a foreign policy adviser on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign. He also served on the board of the now-defunct American Task Force on Palestine, which was the most prominent pro-Palestinian group in the US lobbying for a two-state solution.

The board currently includes 12 members who were appointed by leadership from both houses of Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed former congressman Robert Wexler, who was a candidate to serve as US President Joe Biden’s ambassador to Israel and currently heads the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer picked New York City’s Central Synagogue Rabbi Angela Buchdahl. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tapped Elliot Abrams, who served in senior foreign policy posts in the Bush and Trump administrations.

Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Patrick Leahy picked the Arava Institute’s Michael Cohen. The committee’s ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby tapped Heather Johnston, who founded and runs the US Israel Education Association, a pro-Israel Christian group.

MEPPA Advisory Committee chairman George Salem (Middle East Institute)

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez appointed former AIPAC board member Harley Lippman. The committee’s ranking member Jim Risch picked Sander Gerber, who is a fellow at the hawkish Jewish Institute for National Security of America and helped craft the Taylor Force Act, which suspended US aid to the Palestinian Authority over Ramallah’s payments to individuals convicted of terror charges and to families of slain attackers.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Greg Meeks appointed Hiba Husseini, a Palestinian attorney who has served as a legal adviser to the peace process negotiations since 1994. The committee’s ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul tapped Mark Green who was the USAID administrator during the Trump administration.

House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Rosa DeLauro appointed former congresswoman Nita Lowey, who introduced MEPPA. The committee’s ranking member Kay Granger tapped Jen Stewart, who served as chief of staff to Trump defense secretary Mark Esper.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has yet to announce his appointment to the panel. There are also two spots that can be filled by representatives of foreign governments or international organizations.

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, who has pledged to advance MEPPA from Jerusalem, praised Friday’s announcement: “Congratulations George Salem on being selected by [USAID Administrator Samantha Power] as Chair of the Partnership for Peace Fund. Important step to implement the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act, spearheaded by my friend Nita Lowey. Looking forward to seeing the results of this USAID initiative!”

The advisory board is mandated with meeting twice a year in public meetings to discuss which programs in Israel and the Palestinian territories are worthy of US assistance, with the $250 million being allocated over a five-year period. Each member will serve a three-year term.

Then-Rep. Nita Lowey in the Capitol, October 16, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images via JTA)

The funding will go through USAID and the US International Development Financial Corporation to programs that “strengthen people-to-people engagement between Palestinians and Israelis, increasing understanding and building the foundation for peaceful coexistence and a sustainable two-state solution,” according to a statement from Power’s office.

Joel Braunold, who led the lobbying efforts to pass MEPPA as then-executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace told The Times of Israel that Salem “is one of the most prominent Palestinian American lay-leaders in the United States today.”

“I’m delighted that the next milestone in the implementation of MEPPA has been completed with an advisory board representing the diverse views of congressional leadership,” he added.

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