A White house official has confirmed initial reports by Jewish Insider that the Trump administration has quietly transferred $20 million towards West Bank and Gaza projects that would “directly benefit” the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The funds were redirected to Palestinian wastewater programs after the money was frozen from an Egyptian economic aid package. According to the initial report, a Congressional aide explained, “It means that the Trump administration is trying to get money out of the door before Taylor Force goes into effect.”
The Taylor Force Act, passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, cuts off U.S. economic aid that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority until they end violence against U.S. and Israeli citizens, condemn such acts of violence, and end payments to terrorists and their families. The bill is named after a former U.S. army officer, Taylor Force, who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in Tel Aviv.
The State Department announced last week its “strong support” for the Act, as it is a direct consequence of the PA and PLO’s policies of paying terrorist salaries.
“With the Senate Appropriations Committee including the Taylor Force Act in its most recent annual Foreign Operations Budget, the bill is almost certain to pass by the end of 2017,” reported Jewish Insider’s Aaron Magid.
According to White House officials, “The State Department came to us and said they had identified this particular piece of money and these were, if I recall, FY2016 (Fiscal Year) funds that disappear at the end of September.”
The funds were originally allocated as economic aid to Egypt, but were delayed since fiscal 2014, pending Egyptian improvement of human rights violations and restrictions on human rights organizations.
Instead, the funds were redirected to supply the Palestinian Authority and Gaza with more water under the “Red Sea-Dead Sea” water sharing agreement, which Jason Greenblatt, the U.S. Middle East envoy, negotiated between the PA and Israel. Because this program directly benefits the Palestinian Authority, the allocation of funds to it would not be able to continue after the Taylor Force Act is implemented.
Last week, Greenblatt stressed the importance of the water project for the West Bank and Gaza, urging international aid to assist the Palestinian Authority. However, funds allocated for humanitarian efforts in the Palestinian territories are often misappropriated for terrorist efforts against Israel. Last year, reports emerged of two separate cases of United Nations-funded Palestinian leaders funneling money into Hamas’ terrorist and military efforts, directly from the “humanitarian aid” organizations.
Last year, former U.S. President Barack Obama came under great Republican scrutiny when, in his administration’s final hours, the U.S. quietly sent $221 million to the Palestinian Authority.
A Trump Administration official denied allegations that they were rushing to move the funds to the program ahead of the Taylor Force Act, with a White House Official saying, “There was a particular window for this so that the money would be used. TFA (Taylor Force Act) would have no impact on this even if they passed it tomorrow. There wasn’t an ‘oh my gosh, let’s get this money before Taylor Force passes.’”
The White House official then stressed that although the U.S. would like to support several Palestinian projects, “When you have terrorists stabbing American citizens in the back and tax paying dollars used to support these people, the President said very clearly to President Abbas in both Washington and Bethlehem in May, this is intolerable to us.”
This money transfer occurs in the context of last week’s announcement that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist group, will be seeking a unity government brokered by Egypt. Hamas is quite clear about its aims to destroy the Jewish State of Israel, one of the U.S.’s strongest allies. And while the U.S. has a long-standing policy of boycotting Hamas and condemning a Palestinian unity government, White House officials said they “appreciate the Egyptian efforts to try and come to some resolution to do this.”
According to Magid with Jewish Insider, “Given the longstanding US policy of boycotting Hamas, any openness by the Trump administration towards the Islamist group playing some sort of internationally recognized political role is considered noteworthy.”