MORE INFORMATION: Questions & Answers about U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians

November 4, 2011

WHAT KIND OF AID DOES THE U.S. PRESENTLY PROVIDE THE PALESTINIANS?

Congress annually provides three pots of money to the Palestinian people: (1) $200 million in direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority government; (2) $150 million or more in support of Palestinian security forces; and (3) Approximately $200 million in support of humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Each of these pots plays a vital role in support of a just peace, and irrespective of one's views on Palestinian actions at the UN, should not be used as a tool of punishment against the PA because of diplomatic disagreements. There is particular injustice in blocking the humanitarian funds, as they are kept strictly segregated from the PA, are subject to a host of tight restrictions already, and go primarily to NGOs providing support for humanitarian assistance, economic development, democratic reform, improving water access and other infrastructure, health care, education, and vocational training.

HOW DOES AID TO THE PALESTINIANS SERVE THE INTERESTS OF THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE?

First, the humanitarian aid discussed above serves the important purpose of meeting the needs of people in the West Bank and Gaza, where poverty and human need, access to health care and education, job training, and economic development are significant challenges. Second, direct aid to the Palestinian Authority(PA) allows the PA, a body composed of moderate voices who are unequivocal in their rejection of violence and their recognition of the Israeli state, to govern with strength and effectiveness. The present PA government, through the efforts of Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, has brought about unprecedented economic and infrastructural development in the West Bank. Third, security aid allows for the training and staffing of Palestinian security forces that cooperate with Israeli security forces in maintaining historically low levels of violence as well as Palestinian sovereignty over security operations (as opposed to placing responsibility solely in the hands of Israelis). International aid to the Palestinian Authority has been cited by Israel, the Palestinians, and nearly all international partners - at all stages of the modern peace process - as vital to strengthening the PA and creating conditions necessary for peace. U.S. current law is strong an unambiguous that American aid cannot support violence or terrorism in any way, nor any group that supports violence or terrorism. The PA is dependent on external aid at the present moment and, as Secretary Clinton reminded Congress last week, its withdrawal could have dire consequences, up to the collapse of the PA. This would be an unimaginable blow to the peace process.

HOW DOES AID TO THE PALESTINIANS SERVE THE INTERESTS OF ISRAEL?

As noted above, the strengthening and support of the Palestinian Authority as a moderate political force that rejects violence and supports Israel's right to exist is fully in the interest of Israel and its publicly stated desires for the peace process. Violence against Israelis is at a historic low, in part because of Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation in recent years made possible by U.S. security aid. This led Prime Minister Netanyahu to personally ask a U.S. congressional delegation this summer to allow security funding to the PA to move forward. A weakening or collapse of the PA would be disastrous for Israel, as Secretary Clinton pointed out last week, because it could create a Palestinian political vacuum into which Hamas or other actors that publicly back violence and refuse to recognize Israel could move. Several prominent American Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, including the Israel Project, J Street, and Americans for Peace Now, are unambiguous in their opposition to congressional efforts to terminate aid to the PA. Lt. Gen. Mike Moeller, the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, has testified that U.S. assistance and cooperation made the P.A. security forces a "trusted, capable partner for the Israeli security establishment" that "continue to conduct effective security operations and pursue bad actors across the West Bank, including members of Hamas." The Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, concluded that Israeli co-operation with U.S. trained PA security forces helped make 2010 the most violence-free year in a decade.

HOW DOES AID TO THE PALESTINIANS SERVE THE STATED INTERSTS OF THE UNITED STATES?

According to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, "U.S. aid to the Palestinians is intended to promote at least three major U.S. policy priorities of interest to Congress: (1) Combating, neutralizing, and preventing terrorism against Israel from the Islamist group Hamas and other militant organizations; (2) Creating a virtuous cycle of stability and prosperity in the West Bank that inclines Palestinians — including those in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip — toward peaceful coexistence with Israel and prepares them for self-governance; and (3) Meeting humanitarian needs and preventing further destabilization, particularly in the Gaza Strip." Each of these interests would be undermined by terminating U.S. aid to the PA.

HOW DOES AID TO THE PALESTINIANS SERVE THE INTEREST OF A JUST PEACE?

As the Episcopal Church has stated repeatedly through the years, our aim is a just peace negotiated between the parties themselves that includes a number of components, including a secure and universally recognized Israel; a viable, independent, and secure Palestinian state; a shared capitol in Jerusalem with free access to the holy sites; and agreement on all other outstanding issues (refugees, access to natural resources, borders etc.) Negotiations require two strong, committed parties, and constructive and fair international partners. Unfortunately, Palestinians are already the weaker partner. Withdrawing U.S. financial aid to the PA, a key lifeline, would weaken their side further. Moreover, it would raise even further questions about the commitment of the United States for fairness and honesty as a broker for peace. In a climate in which significant concerns are held by both Israelis and Palestinians about the credibility and fairness of outside partners (the U.S., the United Nations, the Arab League, etc.), the U.S. ought to be looking for ways to strengthen rather than weaken its essential credibility and evenhandedness.

ARE CONGRESSIONAL EFFORTS TO TERMINATE PALESTINIAN AID A RESPONSE TO LEGITIMATE CONCERNS ABOUT THE PA'S ATIONS AT THE UN THIS FALL?

No. Current U.S. law is clear that American aid to the Palestinians is conditioned on the PA's rejection of violence. The Episcopal Church has spoken clearly in favor of this condition since the beginning of the modern peace process in the early 1990s. There is no U.S. foreign-aid program more heavily monitored or subject to more stringent safeguards than aid to the Palestinians. Irrespective of how one feels about the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition at the UN, it is important to note, as did the Episcopal Church's Executive Council and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, that it was an implicitly non-violent step that involves legitimate political aspirations that have been recognized as valid by the U.S., Israel, the UN, and all other major actors. It was not a repudiation of negotiations but a response to the fact that negotiations are not happening. One can question whether the diplomatic strategy serves the interest of bringing the parties back to the table, but one cannot credibly argue that it represents a backtracking from the PA's commitment to non-violence. Withdrawing aid as a response to the actions at the UN does not serve, in any way, to encourage non-violence. In fact, as noted above, among the best ways to ensure that Palestinian leadership remains in the hands of moderate voices committed to non-violence is to continue funding the PA at or above current levels.