U.S. funding for Palestinian security services ends

Diplomats scramble to mitigate impacts on West Bank stability.

By
January 31, 2019 21:41
U.S. funding for Palestinian security services ends

Members of Palestinian security forces disperse a Hamas demonstration in Hebron in the West Bank. December 14, 2018. . (photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA / REUTERS)

 
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The US funding and training program for the PA’s security services ended Thursday at midnight, as diplomats and politicians scrambled to find a way to mitigate the impact on West Bank stability.

The 14-year-old US Security Coordinator (USSC) mission, and the $61 million the US provides annually, is perceived to be the cornerstone to an effective Palestinian Authority security service.

Coordinated PA and IDF security activity, which has withstood diplomatic crisis and terrorism waves, is touted as a stabilizing factor in the often volatile West Bank.

It is feared that the loss of the program could harm both that coordination and the effectiveness of the Palestinian security forces in general.

A US official clarified that the US training program had stopped, but that “the US Security Coordinator and his team continue to conduct a security cooperation-only mission.”

That mission, whose office is located in Jerusalem, would  not involve funding support to the PA, but would help with IDF-PA coordination and provide an advisory role.

A PA official said Thursday that security coordination between the Palestinians and Israel will not be immediately affected by the ending of the US aid, including its security services in the West Bank.

“I don’t believe this will impact the security coordination in the short term,” the official told The Jerusalem Post. “But who knows what will happen in the coming weeks and months.”

The Trump administration has withdrawn most of its financial assistance to the PA, but always intended to continue financing its security services.

The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, however, has made such an option impossible.

The legislation, which passed unanimously by the House and Senate last year, came into force on Friday, leaving the PA open to terror related lawsuits in the US courts, if it accepts American financial assistance.

The PA has said it will forgo receiving US financial aid, including the $61m. Washington provides in security assistance to the Palestinians.

PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat told journalists in Ramallah that PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah recently sent a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking him to halt US funds to the Palestinians because of the anti-terrorism law, Erekat explained.

“Regrettably, the US economic aid to Palestine now has become a dividing force due to the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA) of 2018,” Hamdallah wrote in his letter. “As you may know, the ATCA references various forms of US assistance to the government of Palestine. Further, the ATCA purports to alter the rules of jurisdiction over the government of Palestine in the US legal proceedings if it continues to accept such aid after January 31, 2019.”

Erekat said the Palestinians do not want to receive any money if that would expose them to legal proceedings. He denied that the PA was seeking other ways to ensure the continuation of the US funding without being exposed to legal action.

“We’re not seeking anything,” he said. “The Americans have taken their decision, but we will continue to take part in combating terrorism in the region.” The US, he noted, halted financial aid in hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinians in the past year.

“The US administration has cut $844m. of aid to the Palestinians and their institutions,” he said. “This has resulted in ending road and school and water and sanitation projects, which have been left unfinished,” Erekat added. He said that as of Friday, all USAID offices and projects for the Palestinians will be shut and hundreds of employees and workers will lose their jobs.

“We can do without this aid,” Erekat said. “We haven’t opened a battle with the US, and we don’t want to launch a battle against any other party.” Accusing the US administration of trying to “blackmail” the Palestinians, Erekat said: “Jerusalem is not for sale.”

A US official said, “As of February 1, at the request of the Palestinian Authority, the United States ceased providing any assistance under the authorities specified in ATCA, in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Jordan.”

“All USAID assistance in the West Bank and Gaza have ceased. So has U.S. security assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) coming from the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INCLE) funding stream,” the official said.

A State Department official said the US will continue to work through the potential impact of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act. “In consultation with partners, we have taken steps to wind down certain projects and programs in the West Bank and Gaza.”

“There is an active effort to try and preserve the security cooperation funds from both sides, but with varying approaches,” one congressional aide working on the matter told the Post. “There was an effort to get it in the year-end omnibus at the end of last year, which obviously failed.”

The aide explained that a renewal of aid would have to come in the form either of an independent, bipartisan agreement, or an attachment to must-pass legislation, such as the upcoming spending bill.

But Israel’s call for continued US funding has maintained a bipartisan atmosphere.

“There’s a widespread acknowledgment that it is not in anyone’s interest to see security cooperation end – it’s a question of how to proceed,” the aide added.

Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said the USSC also acted as a liaison between the Israeli and Palestinian security forces, although the two forces communicated directly as well. It played a “quasi-diplomatic role” because it could talk with both sides, he said.

The USSC is the only body that trains the Palestinians and when it shuts down, there is no structure for any other external force to train the Palestinians, he said.

“It doesn’t automatically mean that tomorrow, security coordination stops. What it does mean is that tomorrow begins a period where there is no training and there is no direct US assistance in navigating the security forces,” Shapiro said.

He said he feared it could have long-term impact on both the Palestinian security forces and its coordination with the IDF.

“A process of deterioration will begin, in which the security forces will be less effective and there is a risk that it will contribute to a process that will lead to the end of the Palestinian security coordination with Israel,” Shapiro, who is a visiting fellow at Tel Aviv University’s National Institute for Security Studies, said.

Lt.-Col. (res.) Alon Eviatar said that at first glance, he did not believe the loss of the funding and the USSC mission would be that significant.

Eviatar was a past adviser on Palestinian affairs for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

He said he believed that alternative funding could be found from donor countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The bulk of the US funding had gone to training, and the day-to-day activities were less likely to be affected, he said.

The Palestinian security services will still be able to carry out their essential duties, including arrests and maintaining order, Eviatar said. They will also be able to operate against Hamas in the West Bank.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday renewed his criticism of the US administration and said it has disqualified itself from acting as a mediator between the Palestinians and Israel.

Abbas’s criticism came during a press conference he held in Ramallah with the president of Malta, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca.

Abbas, however, did not mention the ending of US financial aid to the Palestinians.

The US, Abbas said, is “encouraging Israel to act as a state that is above the law because of its blind bias” in favor of Israel. He said the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem, as well as other “punitive measures against us,” were unacceptable to the entire international community.

“The US alone is no longer qualified to assume the role of mediator,” Abbas said. “We call for holding an international conference for peace and the establishment of a multi-party mechanism to move forward with the path of peace.”

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