House Democrats revive bid to fully restore Palestinian aid

The Democratic-held House is launching another bid to increase Palestinian economic aid while facilitating people-to-people programs with Israel.

al-monitor US Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., speaks on Jan. 28, 2020, in Washington about her trip to Israel and to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland as part of a bipartisan delegation from the House of Representatives.  Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images.

Jul 7, 2020

The Democratic-held House is once again attempting to restore economic and humanitarian aid for the Palestinians to levels that slightly exceed the $215 million in assistance the United States provided before President Donald Trump eliminated it.

The House’s foreign aid panel on Monday unanimously advanced its spending bill, which includes $225 million in economic aid for the West Bank and Gaza, setting the stage for a full Appropriations Committee vote later this week.

Ahead of the vote, Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., touted the fact that the bill “seeks to restore humanitarian and development assistance to the Palestinians to continue the viability of a two-state solution by providing resources to organizations working in the West Bank and Gaza.”

Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the top Republican on the foreign aid panel, thanked Lowey for “including $3.3 billion in foreign military financing for our great ally Israel and for your steadfast support for their security.”

The bill also includes legislation introduced by Lowey to establish a program promoting people-to-people exchanges and economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.

“I am particularly proud that, as a bipartisan priority, the mark includes $50 million to fund a new partnership for peace in the Middle East that would promote economic development while strengthening engagement between Palestinians and Israelis through people-to-people programs and economic ventures,” said Lowey, who is retiring at the end of the year.

The legislation authorizing the partnership states that “building a viable Palestinian economy is central to the effort to preserve the possibility of a negotiated settlement leading to a sustainable two-state solution with the democratic, Jewish state of Israel and a demilitarized, democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition.”

Trump’s State Department first eliminated $215 million in Palestinian aid in 2018 by reprogramming it elsewhere. That same year, Trump also eliminated all US funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), exacerbating the beleaguered agency’s budget shortfalls.

Lowey’s foreign aid bill states that a portion of the $225 million “may also be made available as a contribution or grant” to UNRWA for “activities in the West Bank and Gaza,” though it does not specify any mandatory amount.

Although House appropriators sought to provide nearly $227 million in economic aid for the West Bank and Gaza last year, the compromise funding bill with the Republican-held Senate authorized only $75 million. Still, that bill ensured that the State Department cannot reprogram more than 10% of allocated foreign funding appropriated by Congress — a tactic the Trump administration has frequently used to overcome congressional aid directives.

Nonetheless, the State Department has until October 2021 to spend the $75 million in Palestinian aid that Congress appropriated last year — and it’s unclear whether the Trump administration has yet done so.

A group of eight Senate Democrats, led by Sens. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, penned a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March to inquire about the status of the $75 million in Palestinian economic aid.

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