Why Obama quietly sent Palestine $221 million during his last hours in office

ObamaScott Olson/Getty ImagesPresident Barack Obama delivers a farewell speech to the nation on January 10, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.

On Monday the Associated Press reported that as one of Barack Obama’s final actions in office before the inauguration of Donald Trump, he released $221 million to the Palestinian Authority.

The $221 million comes from federal aid the US provides to the West Bank and Gaza, which totaled around $355 million for 2015. The sum released by Obama during his last hours in office had been held up by a bipartisan group of congresspeople, including both Ed Royce and Kate Granger.

“The easiest way to sum it up is that Congress had been looking at various behaviours from Palestine — unilateral attempts at statehood, corruption, incitement of violence, and paying salaries to people in jail for terrorism — and that’s why the hold has been there,” Dr. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies told Business Insider.

Schanzer characterised the move by Obama as “a strange message to send,” and also, a shock.

“I was tracking President Obama’s 11th hour moves on the Palestinians and this issue never came up once … most analysts and observers didn’t think Obama would or could do this,” said Schanzer.

The Obama administration had been pressing for the release of the funds for some time, according to the Associated Press, which reported that a notification sent to Congress stated that the money came from the U.S. Agency for International Development and was set to support humanitarian aid, political and security reforms, and “rule of law.”

The Palestinian Authority, which had been had been hurting for cash, used the money for “salaries unpaid and debts that are owed,” said Schanzer.

Schanzer said that the Palestinian Authority has done nothing to warrant this reversal on Obama’s part, characterising activities such as corruption and incitement of violence as “ongoing.”

Schanzer pointed to the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, as an example of corruption. Abbas entered his 12th year as president this year, despite only being elected to a four-year term in 2005.

Obama is “releasing funds to a guy that’s become an autocrat,” said Schanzer.

Obama’s unilateral action to override the will of a a bipartisan Congress comes at the end of his presidency, when he seemed increasingly willing to let Israel fend for itself. In December, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Israel halt building settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. The US refused to vote on the resolution, effectively allowing it to pass.

Meanwhile, Trump has promised to be the most pro-Israel president the US has ever seen, and has repeatedly floated the idea of moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which Abbas has urged against.

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