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April 13, 2021 11:30 am
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Can Biden Fund the Palestinians Without Breaking the Law?

avatar by Jonathan S. Tobin / JNS.org

Opinion

U.S. President Joe Biden signs the American Rescue Plan, a package of economic relief measures to respond to the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, inside the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 11, 2021. Reuters/Tom Brenner

JNS.org – Has the Biden administration found a way to spite its predecessor and aid the Palestinians without breaking the law? The US State Department thinks it has, and so do its cheerleaders in the mainstream media and academia. The motive for last week’s announcement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken of a $235 million aid package to the Palestinians was clear. It was intended to send a message to Israel as well as to the Middle East that President Joe Biden was determined to reverse what Democrats think was a mistaken tilt towards the Jewish state by the Trump administration.

It has left many American supporters of Israel wondering how it is possible for Biden and Blinken to turn on the spigot of taxpayer cash to the Palestinians without violating US law. The 2018 Taylor Force Act—named for a non-Jewish American veteran who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist while on a graduate-school trip to Israel—passed by Congress mandates that no American funds can be transferred to the Palestinian Authority as long as it is paying pensions and salaries for convicted terrorists. The only exceptions are money allocated for hospitals, vaccines and water-treatment projects.

The PA has not halted its terrorist subsidies, but the Biden administration doesn’t care. Its priority is to revoke former President Donald Trump’s policies and return to pre-2017 policies of funding for the Palestinians. And it has carefully put together a package that at least at first glance seems to comply with the letter, if not the spirit of the law.

Some $150 million of aid will go to the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN refugee agency devoted solely to dealing with the Palestinians and which operates a vast number of institutions designed to support the millions who claim descent from the original 1948 refugees, including schools and food assistance. Another $75 million will go to economic development programs in the West Bank and Gaza, while yet another $10 million will go to so-called “peace building” initiatives involving Israelis and Palestinians.

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According to Blinken, “US foreign assistance for the Palestinian people serves important US  interests and values. It provides critical relief to those in great need, fosters economic development, and supports Israeli-Palestinian understanding, security coordination and stability.”

That sounds very high-minded. Blinken also made clear that he believes that these allocations won’t violate the Taylor Force Act since none of the money will go directly to the PA Instead, according to Blinken, the money will go to partner agencies that are supposedly independent of either the corrupt Fatah government led by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas or his Hamas rivals who rule Gaza as an independent state in all but name.

But this isn’t so much an exercise in altruism as it is in deception.

As a Government Accounting Office report about the aid that had previously been given to the Palestinians by the US government prior to Trump’s cut-off, the money doled out by American officials wasn’t closely monitored, and some of it wound up in the hands of terrorists. The report made clear that increased scrutiny might prevent the problem, though no one really believes Blinken when he speaks of the administration taking the issue seriously.

The same bureaucracy—now with a mandate from Biden to start spreading the wealth around again—will behave as they did previously and ask few questions about those benefiting from American largesse.

But whether there is more scrutiny or not, the entire exercise is a sham. As Blinken knows very well, Palestinian NGOs have no real independence from their government. Abbas and Fatah call all the shots in the West Bank, and nothing happens in Gaza without Hamas’s say so with both regimes profiting from each allegedly independent expenditure.

Even if the Palestinian NGOs weren’t essentially fraudulent in nature, the package clearly violates the intent of the Taylor Force Act since the money these groups spend is fungible and allows the PA to shift it so as to let the “non-government” funds take the place of what Abbas’s minions might be obligated to spend. So while the United States will claim that its cash isn’t being spent on terrorism, it will allow the PA to spend other funds on that purpose.

Congressional intent was clear. No more American money was to go to the PA—let alone Hamas—so long as it was in the business of backing terrorism in one form or another. The same reasoning was behind the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 by a Democratic-controlled Congress which similarly banned any US assistance to the PA if it had initiated an investigation into bogus charges of war crimes by Israel by the International Criminal Court.

While that provision, like the Taylor Force Act, remains in place, the Biden administration is demonstrating its disdain for these laws. Indeed, though the State Department has said it opposes the ICC’s attempt to delegitimize Israeli self-defense against terrorists, Biden has removed the sanctions that Trump placed on those involved in these efforts.

The resumption of funding to UNRWA is being hailed by the “human rights” community and the Palestinians as a return to normalcy after Trump’s decision to cut them off.

But in this case, “normalcy” is merely a feckless continuation of policies that reinforced Palestinian intransigence. UNRWA’s purpose is to perpetuate the refugee problem rather than solve it. Its schools and other agencies are part of the reason why the Palestinians have held onto their mad quest to undo a century of history and eliminate Israel. The foreign-policy establishment deems Trump’s effort to either reform or disband UNRWA as inhumane. But the opposite is true. Pouring more money into their coffers helps condemn more generations to pointless conflict rooted in a delusion about Israel’s impermanence. Biden and Blinken may pose as friends of both Israelis and the Palestinians; however, these efforts do nothing to advance peace and empower the very people who have, decade after decade, made it impossible for the Palestinians to give up their fantasy about a world without Israel.

The administration feels fully justified in flouting the law when it comes to Palestinian funding. That’s because the members of the Obama alumni club who are back in control of American foreign policy feel that everything that Trump and his band of amateurs did was intrinsically wrong and must be undone. That’s despite the fact that the amateurs’ success with the Abraham Accords outstrips everything attempted by the establishment under both Democratic and Republican administrations for the last 25 years.

Yet according to Politico, those behind an effort to refund a government dedicated to terrorism don’t believe that they can make peace. That’s a reversal of Obama’s hubris, and to some extent, Trump’s foolish belief that he could broker the “ultimate deal.”

But Biden’s team does want everything to go back to the pre-Trump normal.

This is even worse than Obama’s efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians favor during his eight years in the White House. While his pressure campaign strengthened Palestinian intransigence without persuading Israelis to attempt self-destructive concessions, at least they were carried out in the belief that peace was possible. Biden’s team isn’t ambitious enough to cling to that fool’s errand. Instead, they are so committed to erasing Trump’s legacy that they are prepared to empower terrorist funders without even believing that it will make life better for the people of the Middle East.

That Democrats who considered Trump to be contemptuous of the rule of law are indifferent to Biden’s dance around the law to aid Palestinian thugs isn’t just an example of partisan hypocrisy. It’s a sign that they are more concerned about their war on Trump’s legacy than the cause of peace they’re always telling us they care so much about.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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