Congressional Republicans put a hold on $75 million of the newly reinstated US aid to the Palestinians, two sources in Washington confirmed on Thursday.
On March 26, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) sent Congress a “program narrative” of about $75m. in Economic Support Funds (ESF) for programs in the West Bank and Gaza that would begin 15 days after the notification was received.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), used their respective positions as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and lead Republican of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to stop the USAID’s notification about the reinstated funding from reaching the committees, which means the aid will not start on April 10 as planned.
The USAID programs for the Palestinians include roads, sidewalks, bus lots, emergency preparedness, adapting to climate change, “community initiatives” and “safe spaces to engage in community initiatives.”
On Wednesday, the State Department announced a financial package of $290m. for the Palestinians, including security and humanitarian aid, as well as funding for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Risch and McCaul said, shortly after the announcement, that “resuming assistance to the West Bank and Gaza without concessions from the Palestinian Authority undermines US interests.
“The PA is spending millions annually to compensate terrorists while the international community pays for the well-being of the Palestinian people,” they stated. “A recent Government Accountability Office report rightly calls for increased oversight of Palestinian assistance to ensure compliance with anti-terrorism policies. The Biden administration should use all available leverage to secure behavior changes from the PA, including ending terror payments.”
They added that they would ensure that the government’s move to reinstate aid does not violate the Taylor Force Act, which outlawed most aid to the Palestinian Authority as long as it continues its “pay-for-slay” scheme, in which Palestinian terrorists receive monthly stipends, corresponding in size to the severity of their crimes.
The GAO report Risch and McCaul referenced, released on March 19, stated that USAID “did not consistently ensure” its grants given in 2015-2019 did not reach terrorists and terrorist groups. The GAO recommended that USAID “(1) verify prime awardees have procedures to ensure compliance with requirements before making sub-awards and (2) conduct post-award compliance reviews in time to make corrections before the awards end.”
Similarly, on Thursday, 18 Republican senators signed a letter, initiated by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, calling on the Biden administration to pause the new USAID programs until it implements the GAO recommendations to ensure grants do not go to terrorists.
It must clarify to Congress how the aid is compliant with the Taylor Force Act and how the Biden administration interprets that law, and ascertains that aid to the Palestinians “is tightly targeted to ensure that it benefits the Palestinian people and not the PA or Hamas.”
“Since 1993, the US government provided more than $6.3 billion to the Palestinians with the aims of, first, advancing the Palestinians’ capacity to build a state and, second, insulating and distancing Palestinian governance from terrorism,” the letter states. “Measured by the degree to which they have achieved those aims, US programs have not just failed but have been counter-productive, with the money facilitating terrorist incitement and making its way to terrorists.”