(photo credit: )
Despite US President George W. Bush's declaration of increased support for the Palestinians, particularly financial help, the administration has acknowledged that no new funding requests have been made to Congress as part of the program outlined in Bush's speech on Monday.
Critics of the president and his speech seeking to reinvigorate the peace process and bolster Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas labeled the lack of promised financial support symptomatic of the administration's treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, saying it shed doubt on whether the speech could impact the reality on the ground.
"The United States is taking a series of steps to strengthen the forces of moderation and peace among the Palestinian people," Bush said Monday. "First, we are strengthening our financial commitment."
He pointed to more than $190 million in humanitarian assistance, $225m. in loan backing and $80m. in a security-reform program to be headed by Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton.
Yet administration officials said Tuesday that what amounts to $194m. in humanitarian aid - a combination of the US yearly contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and $50m. in civil society and infrastructure funds - was already budgeted as part of the current year's spending, well ahead of Monday's speech.
"By new, we view that as what we're going to provide in the current fiscal year, fiscal year '07," one senior administration official said.
The $225m. in loan guarantees - rather than outright loans - comes from a $10m. contribution Bush designated earlier in July as part of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation's efforts. And the $80m. in security reform is only part of the same pot of $86m. that was drawn on for a similar request the administration made earlier this year - a request Congress helped whittle to $59m. - and was never spent because the Hamas takeover of Gaza interfered.
"I don't see any new money here. So there's more hype here than there is new money," said Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. "When you try to get your arms around it, it evaporates."
"One of the hallmarks of this administration has been fantasy trumping reality," he said, adding that the whole speech suffered from such delusions. "If I were Abu Mazen [Abbas], I would be looking for a whole lot of independent ways to strengthen my administration, and not looking for US money to do it. [This speech] doesn't do it."
"There's no content," said one Democratic staffer tracking the issue, who said he had seen no new funding request. "It's motion without movement. The appearance of engagement is more important than actual engagement." He warned that Congress could hold up requests made for 2008 or the reassignment of the $80m. for security reform since many members had doubts about Abbas, as well as other concerns.
The administration is pointing to the likelihood of additional funds being allocated in 2008, particularly to build on the work of incoming Quartet envoy Tony Blair, as a significant part of realizing Bush's intention to increase aid.
"We will work with Congress and partners around the world to provide additional resources once a plan to build Palestinian institutions is in place," Bush said in his speech.
"That's a sentence that's redolent with promise in terms of new resources," Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch said following the speech Monday. He said the mechanism for delivering the aid indicates a shift in US policy, with "direct support" being sent through the PA, as opposed to routing funds directly to Abbas, as had been envisioned under the previous $59m. security program.
Rafi Dajani, executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine, welcomed the move, saying the administration's efforts to direct money to the PA were an important step. Allowing humanitarian aid to go to Gaza, as the administration indicated some aid would do, was key, he added.
"As a first step, it is sufficient, and I don't think you can expect more" at this point, Dajani said. "It's very significant that it was spoken about," he said of Bush's reference to the importance of helping Palestinians financially. "But its significance will be measured by its implementation."