FOREIGN POLICY

State Department reviewing Obama administration's decision to send Palestinians $221M

The administration unlocked U.S. funding to help Palestinians with debt relief and other programs; James Rosen has the details for 'Special Report'

 

The State Department announced Tuesday that it will review the last-minute decision by former Secretary of State John Kerry to send $221 million to the Palestinians late last week over the objections of congressional Republicans.

The department said it would look at the payment and might make adjustments to ensure it comports with the Trump administration’s priorities.

Kerry formally notified Congress that State would release the money Friday morning, just hours before President Trump took the oath of office.

Congress had initially approved the Palestinian funding in budget years 2015 and 2016, but at least two GOP lawmakers — Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Kay Granger of Texas, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee — had placed holds on it over moves the Palestinian Authority had taken to seek membership in international organizations. Congressional holds are generally respected by the executive branch but are not legally binding after funds have been allocated.

Granger released a statement Tuesday saying, “I am deeply disappointed that President Obama defied congressional oversight and released $221 million to the Palestinian territories.”

She added: “I worked to make sure that no American taxpayer dollars would fund the Palestinian Authority unless very strict conditions were met. While none of these funds will go to the Palestinian Authority because of those conditions, they will go to programs in the Palestinian territories that were still under review by Congress. The Obama Administration’s decision to release these funds was inappropriate.”

The Obama administration had for some time been pressing for the release of the money, which comes from the U.S. Agency for International Development and is to be used to fund humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza, to support political and security reforms and to help prepare for good governance and the rule of law in a future Palestinian state, according to the notification sent to Congress.

The Palestinian funding is likely to draw anger from some in Congress as well as the Trump White House. Trump has vowed to be a strong supporter of Israel and has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Washington next month.

Trump appears to be approaching the Middle East differently then the Obama administration.

For example, some members of Trump’s administration have been split on whether to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. 

The Washington Post noted that most of the world doesn’t recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. East Jerusalem is also considered “occupied territory,” which Palestinians hope to call their capital if a two-state solution is ever reached.

Trump’s next ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, supports Israeli settlements and other changes to U.S. policies in the region.

Friedman said he looked forward to carrying out his duties from "the U.S. embassy in Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem," even though the embassy is in Tel Aviv.  Trump advisers have said that the president-elect will follow through on his call for moving the embassy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report