During his final hours in office, on the same day current President Donald Trump would be inaugurated, Barack Obama authorised the State Department to release about $US221 million in withheld funds to Palestinians living in the West Bank — and it looks like it’s finally gone through.
Despite a review imposed on the payment by the incoming Trump administration, and the perception that Obama had turned away from supporting Israel towards the end of his term, acting State Department Spokesman Mark Toner confirmed the money had reached the Palestinians last month.
“So 20 — 220.3 million that was released was for West Bank programs such as water, infrastructure, education, renewable energy, civil society, municipal governance, and the rule of law, as well as Gaza recovery. And a smaller amount was to go directly to Israeli creditors of the Palestinian Authority as well as East Jerusalem hospitals,” Toner said at a press briefing in March.
“None of the funding was to go directly to the Palestinian Authority,” said Toner, contrary to reports that came out at the time. “It’s my understanding that the money has been released.”
Toner’s statement fits with the Obama administration’s earlier notification to Congress that said the money would go towards promoting the “rule of law,” the Associated Press reported at the time.
Obama’s move to release the funds came as he closed his presidency with a critical eye toward Israel. In December 2016, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Israel stop building settlements on Palestinian land. The US refused to vote on the resolution, effectively allowing it to pass.
But far from being a slight to Israel, experts say the funds released by Obama, and later approved by Trump, actually promote stability in the region.
“The Israeli Defence Forces and the Israeli government are the biggest lobbyists of Congress in favour of continuing Palestinian aid,” Michael Koplow, a Middle East analyst at the Israel Policy Forum, told Business Insider in January.
Koplow credits the US and Israel’s aid to the West Bank for keeping it from becoming “a haven for terrorism and a launching ground for rocket attacks,” as is the case with Gaza, another territory occupied by Palestinians.
So while Trump has promised to be very pro-Israel, and also gut foreign aid, it seems his administration agreed to this payment to potentially add stability to one of the more conflicted regions on earth.
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