J Street: Republican hold on aid to Palestinians ‘cruel, not pro Israel’

In response to the Republican congressional leaders’ delaying to $75 million in aid from being sent to the Palestinian people, J Street, the liberal pro-Israel group, criticized the move calling it a “punitive and performatively anti-Palestinian.”

“Congressional Republicans are doubling down on the cruel policies of the Trump administration by putting a hold on the resumption of critical aid to the Palestinian people,” President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement.

He added, “The Biden administration should disburse this aid as instructed by law — as past administrations have done after due consultation with lawmakers and when faced with similar bad-faith abuse of that process.”

The group said that the lawmakers clearly view the Palestinian people “as just another pawn to be used for partisan warfare against President Biden.”

“The overwhelming majority of American Jews, however, want the US to promote genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace and a better future for both peoples, with full respect for the human rights and dignity of Palestinians.”

“Holding up this aid isn’t pro-Israel. Israel’s own security establishment has repeatedly made clear that robust US aid benefiting the Palestinian people helps combat extremism and makes Israelis safer.”

“Instead, this move is simply punitive and performatively anti-Palestinian. Republicans are delaying relief in an attempt to score political points, using dubious claims that the administration has provided insufficient information to Congress.”

Last month, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) sent Congress a “programme narrative” of $75 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF) for programmes in the West Bank and Gaza that would begin 15 days after the notification was received.

The USAID programmes for the Palestinians include roads, pavements, bus lots, emergency preparedness, adapting to climate change, “community initiatives” and “safe spaces to engage in community initiatives.”

Senator James Elroy Risch and Representative Michael McCaul, however, used their positions as high ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and led Republican of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to stop USAID’s notification about the reinstated funding from reaching the committees.

Therefore, the aid will not start on 10 April as scheduled.

The Biden administration announced on Wednesday the resumption of financial assistance to the Palestinian people, amounting to $235 million, as former US President Donald Trump cut the assistance in 2018.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the United States plans to restart US economic, development, and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people.

This includes $75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, $10 million for peace building programs through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and $150 million in humanitarian assistance for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees that caters to more than five million registered refugees.

Following the announcement, Risch and McCaul said that “resuming assistance to the West Bank and Gaza without concessions from the Palestinian Authority (PA) undermines US interests.”

“The PA is spending millions annually to compensate terrorists while the international community pays for the well-being of the Palestinian people.”

“A recent Government Accountability Office report rightly calls for increased oversight of Palestinian assistance to ensure compliance with anti-terrorism policies. The Biden administration should use all available leverage to secure behaviour changes from the [Palestinian Authority] PA, including ending terror payments,” they added, in reference to stipends paid to the families of Palestinian detainees and martyrs.

Similarly, on Thursday, 18 Republican senators signed a letter, initiated by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, calling on the Biden administration to pause the new USAID programs, saying it must clarify to Congress how the aid is compliant with the Taylor Force Act and how the Biden administration interprets that law, and ascertains that aid to the Palestinians “is tightly targeted to ensure that it benefits the Palestinian people and not the PA or Hamas.”

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