The United States gave a cold shoulder last week to the major bi-annual meeting for donor aid to the Palestinian Authority, known as the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), which has operated for the last 25 years.
“We limited our participation to working-level observers only,” US special envoy Jason Greenblatt told The Jerusalem Post this week as he described the downgrade.
It is the latest Trump administration action against traditional venues that help provide financial assistance to Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority.
As part of its peace plan known as the “Deal of the Century,” the administration plans to create new funding venues for the Palestinians, the blueprint for which was unveiled at a Bahrain conference in June. But action on the plan is dependent on success with the political part of the peace process, which has yet to be published.
The US was previously one of the largest donors to the Palestinians and the PA, providing upward of half-a-billion dollars a year through the United Nations and other venues, but it has slowly halted that funding over the last two years.
The high-level 15 member AHLC meeting, held in the spring in Brussels and in the fall in New York, is one of the bedrock pillars of international funding for the Palestinians. It has remained a neutral venue where Israelis, Palestinians and the United States interact, even when all other communication is frozen.
In the past, the meetings chaired by Norway have been attended by high-level officials such as Greenblatt, or secretaries of state such as John Kerry. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini often attends, and was one of the dignitaries who gathered in New York for the meeting on September 26.
Other attendees included representatives from Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations.
“We specifically chose not to speak at the event, or participate at a higher level, because we have previously made our position very clear on this,” Greenblatt said. “It’s time for people to recognize that the conventional approach has brought us no closer to a comprehensive peace agreement, and the trajectory of Palestinian lives continues downward. It’s high time to demand more of the Palestinian leaders.”
PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who led the Palestinian delegation to the AHLC and held meetings with donors on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, said that the US absence was notably felt.
“We have conducted several meetings with donor countries, except the United States, which was absent from these meetings for the first time since 1994, in an attempt to dissolve this important international platform for the Palestinian issue,” Shtayyeh told the Palestinian cabinet in Ramallah on Monday.
Among the issues between the Palestinians and the US is the PA’s insistence on providing monthly stipends to terrorists and their families. PA President Mahmoud Abbas defended such payments during his General Assembly speech last week when he said: “Even if I have one penny left I will give this penny to the families of the martyrs.”
Greenblatt published an opinion piece on the Fox News website in which he spoke against the AHLC, and urged donor countries to halt traditional funding mechanisms for the Palestinian Authority that have proven to be ineffective. He spoke specifically against the Palestinian’s stipends to terrorists, particularly given that the recipients include those who killed Israelis.
“Donor countries must ask themselves why they should keep struggling to raise money, when everyone can plainly see the Hamas regime and the Palestinian Authority are squandering the opportunities that donor money provides for a better future for all Palestinians,” Greenblatt wrote.
During her speech to the AHLC, Mogherini spoke in defense of the group and said its work was critical to the preservation of a two-state solution, dismissing attempts to create a different funding track.
“We believe in the importance of this committee because we believe in the two-state perspective,” Mogherini said. “We also firmly believe that creating alternative or parallel structures should be avoided. The European Union has consistently been the largest donor to the Palestinian people. Our support is aimed at preserving and facilitating the prospect of a Palestinian state living alongside the State of Israel in peace and security.”
Still, Mogherini added, “should this prospect disappear or no longer appear achievable at all, the European Union and other donors would need to fundamentally review our support.”
THE ISRAELI delegation was led by the Foreign Ministry’s Economic Diplomacy Division head Yael Ravia-Zadok, and included the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Kamil Abu Rukun.
The delegation spoke with the committee about the harm Palestinian rocket fire and incendiary devices launched from the Gaza Strip caused to civilian life in southern Israel. It also called on the international community to pressure Hamas to release the remains of two soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war and the two civilians still held captive the Strip.
They spoke of their willingness to support humanitarian projects for Gaza. COGAT in particular spoke with international agencies about advancing civil and economic projects to strengthen the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and Gaza, including water and energy projects.
“We met with many international aid organizations,” Rukun said. “It was agreed to formalize a fixed channel of assistance for the medications that the Gaza Strip’s health system requires.
“Also discussed was the possibility of establishing a trust fund that would make it possible for Gazan children with cancer to receive medical treatment under international funding,” he added.
They also spoke about the PA’s chronic crisis, made worse by its the loss of US funds and Israel’s deduction of a sum equal to the terrorist payments from the tax revenues it transfers to the PA. The Work Bank estimates that this amounts to an annual sum of $138 million.
To protest the deductions, the PA has refused to accept any of its tax revenues, even though that sum amounts to 65% of its total revenues.
In an exceptional move in August, the PA did agree to receive from Israel $560 million in revenues from the fuel import tax, according to the World Bank. It has warned that the PA could be facing a financing gap that could exceed $1.8 billion in 2019.
In its closing statement, the AHLC called on Israel and the Palestinians to resolve the tax revenue crisis. Norway in particular called on donor countries to increase support for the PA to offset the widespread drop in support over the last years.
In particular, it said, funds were needed for the Gaza power plant, the cash to work program, health care and the Gaza reconstruction mechanism.
“The parties should restart political talks to resolve all outstanding final status issues,” the AHLC said in its concluding remarks. “State building and economic development can underpin, but never replace a political solution.”
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.