Why Trump shot down Obama's last-minute attempt to send the Palestinians $221 million

On Tuesday, the state department under President Donald Trump announced it would review one of Barack Obama’s final acts as US president — the release of $221 million to the Palestinian Authority.

Obama’s move came as a shock to many, as the funds had congressional holds on them, which don’t legally bind the president but have historically been respected.

“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,” Dr. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies told Business Insider.

But the $221 million represents just a portion of the total, regularly scheduled US aid to Palestine, which totaled $557 million from all US government agencies in 2015.

“The US and Israel both fund the Palestinian Authority because its stability contributes to Israeli security,” Michael Koplow, a Middle East analyst at the Israel Policy Forum, told Business Insider.

“The reason that the West Bank has not turned into a haven for terrorism and a launching ground for rocket attacks, in contrast to Gaza, is because of the robust security cooperation between the Israeli Defence Forces and the Palestinian Authority security forces. The IDF and the Israeli government are the biggest lobbyists of Congress in favour of continuing Palestinian aid,” said Koplow.

According to Koplow, though the Israelis and their supporters in the US may condemn the Palestinian Authority and their actions, they continually fund and prop up the organisation for a lack of a better alternative.

“Should the PA collapse, the scenarios range from the Israeli military having to reenter the entirety of the West Bank to a complete Hamas takeover. Both the US and Israel are willing to put up with and fund Palestinian Authority corruption, ineffective government, and incitement in order to ensure the security cooperation that safeguards Israeli security,” said Koplow.

However, a few GOP lawmakers decided to draw the line on the $221 million Obama intended to send to the PA.

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 the funds as the Palestinian Authority had pursued “a unilateral tract towards statehood and they were not trying to work with Israel,” said Schanzer.

Indeed, the Palestinians have been making unilateral pushes for statehood, but the Israelis had also pushed forward with initiatives that troubled the Obama administration. The Obama administration made as much clear in December, when 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.

Koplow said Obama likely felt “frustration with Israeli settlement activity despite repeated pleas from the White House and the State Department.” This frustration was “compounded to an unprecedented degree by the Israeli Regulation Bill — which will legalise every unauthorised outpost and building in the West Bank that are currently illegal under Israeli law,” said Koplow.

The bill has only made it through the preliminary stages of Israel’s legislature, but has upset Washington and many in the international community nonetheless.

So while the Palestinian Authority remains corrupt, and a sponsor of terror, the decision on the Israelis part to attempt to barrel ahead with the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza likely prompted Obama’s decision to try to release the funds in his final hours.

Meanwhile, President Trump has repeatedly floated the idea of moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which PA President Mahmoud Abbas has urged against. His administration will review the funding and possibly adjust it should it clash with his strategy in the region, the Associated Press reports.

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