House Democrats push for resuming aid to Palestinians in spending bill

House Democrats push for resuming aid to Palestinians in spending bill
© Greg Nash

House Democrats on Thursday advanced an amendment that would restore millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians cut by the Trump administration two years earlier, as part of a multibillion-dollar spending bill under consideration.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHelping our seniors before it's too late House approves .3 trillion spending package for 2021 House approves two child care bills aimed at pandemic MORE (D-N.Y.) proposed the amendment, which passed by voice vote, calling for $255 million in aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The amendment calls for aid to be delivered directly to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for humanitarian and developmental assistance. Lowey said her amendment seeks to direct U.S. funding “directly to the Palestinian people.”

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“What we can do is ensure that life-saving, critically needed assistance is not politicized by our administration or the PA [Palestinian Authority] and that it is delivered through trusted NGOs directly to the Palestinian people,” she said during a markup of the spending bill.

“In so doing we can ensure that the United States regains our position as a defender of stability and peace in an area of the world about which we all care so passionately. That’s all my amendment seeks to do.”

Lowey said her amendment would strip authority from the secretary of State to suspend assistance to the West Bank and Gaza.

The ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign relations, Rep. Hal RogersHarold (Hal) Dallas RogersHouse Democrats push for resuming aid to Palestinians in spending bill House panel approves bill funding WHO, paring back abortion restrictions Democrats take aim at Trump's policies on 2021 funding markups MORE (R-Ky.), spoke out against the amendment for striking a certification requirement related to a U.S.-led security cooperation program with Israelis and Palestinians.

“The change proposed in the amendment, striking a common sense determination and reporting requirement relating to security cooperation, makes the bill less likely to become law by weakening oversight of a program that is heavily scrutinized,” Rogers said.

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The amendment is part of the House's proposed $66 billion spending bill for 2021.

The Trump administration in 2018 had cut approximately $200 million in financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority over what it said was failure to engage in talks about possible peace negotiations. It also said U.S. funds should not go toward the Gaza Strip while it remains under the control of Hamas, a U.S-designated terrorist organization backed by Iran. 

The administration further cut all U.S. contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the refugee assistance organization that provides assistance to Palestinian refugees from 1948 and their decedents, an estimated 5.6 million people.

The Palestinian Authority, while cutting off communication with the administration, had further rejected accepting any funds from the U.S. for fear of being brought into the American justice system in lawsuits related to American victims of terrorist attacks.

In April, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said the U.S. was providing $5 million to Palestinians to help combat COVID-19. A State Department spokesperson said at the time the funds were being provided to a “USAID implementer” in the West Bank.