Obama Administration Says Negotiating Release of Palestinian Aid

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office at the White House in May 2009. Photo by: Pete Souza / White House

The Obama administration said it is in “intensive consultations” to release $200 million worth of aid for the Palestinian territories that some members of the U.S. Congress have blocked in an attempt to discourage a Palestinian plan to seek statehood through the United Nations.

The House Foreign Affairs committee and the Appropriations subcommittee on State and foreign operations, both led by Republicans, placed a hold on the funds in August amid Palestinian preparations to seek recognition of an independent state at the United Nations.

The U.S. government has opposed the Palestinian plan, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pursued anyway at the 66th U.N. General Assembly last month. Addressing the same assembly, U.S. President Barack Obama noted that negotiations, not resolutions, are the way to achieving peace in the Middle East.

The Obama administration, however, has indicated that it is not in favor of cutting aid to the Palestinian territories and is “caught in the middle — opposing both the Palestinians’ U.N. gambit and the Republican moves to punish them for it,” as The Associated Press puts it.

“We are continuing intensive consultations with the Congress on this money because we feel that U.S. support for Palestinian institution-building is a vital piece of what we’re trying to do here,” said Victoria Nuland, the U.S. State Department spokesperson, at a press briefing Monday, Oct. 3.

Impact on the ground

Palestinian officials said the congressional hold on the funds is slowly being felt on the ground, particularly in the West Bank, where the U.S. Agency for International Development has delayed the implementation of two projects because of insufficient funding, The Associated Press says. An $85 million initiative to improve health services in the Palestinian territories is also feared to be in jeopardy.

USAID officials have confirmed, without going into detail, that some of the agency’s programs are affected by the funding freeze, the news agency adds.

Nuland also acknowledged the possible repercussions on the ground if the funds are not released soon.

“I think where we are is we still have some money in the pipeline, but the concern is that if we don’t get this going with the Congress in short order, there could be an effect on the ground,” she said at the State Department press briefing.

Continued EU support

Meanwhile, European foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has reportedly assured Palestinian leaders that the European Union will not freeze its assistance for the Palestinian territories over their campaign for U.N. recognition.

“Ashton informed Abbas that all EU projects carried out in the Palestinian territories for the benefit of the [Palestinian Authority] and the Palestinian people will not be frozen due to the PA leader’s move at the U.N.,” the International Middle East Media Center reports.

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About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.