by Hugh Fitzgerald
The Biden Administration is determined to undo all aspects of Trump’s Middle East policy. Where Trump pulled out of the JCPOA, and imposed severe economic sanctions on Iran that were just starting to have the desired effect of pushing Iran’s economy into free fall, Biden is making great efforts to revive the deal, by promising that if Iran returns to the 2015 deal, the Americans will remove all sanctions on Iran. The only sticking point is who goes first in what will likely be an agreement fulfilled in stages, with the Americans removing some sanctions, to be followed by a reciprocal move by Iran to halt some aspects of its nuclear program, which would then be followed by another lifting of some sanctions, and that would in turn be followed by Iran taking its own steps, perhaps destroying part of its stockpile of enriched uranium, or idling some of its advanced centrifuges. And these quid-pro-quos would continue until both Iran and the U.S. had fully rejoined the 2015 Iraq deal. The sticking point right now is not the content of the agreement – there will be no “lengthening and strengthening” of it, as Biden and Blinken had once promised – but the schoolyard question of Who Goes First.
The report on this “reset” by Washington of relations with the Palestinians is here: “White House again quietly boosts aid to Palestinians; some in Congress cry foul,” Times of Israel, April 7, 2021:
The Biden administration is moving again to increase US assistance to the Palestinians as it fires up a new Mideast policy that is the direct opposite of the one pursued by its predecessor.
For the third time in two weeks, the administration has either publicly announced or quietly notified Congress of its intent to provide the Palestinians with tens of millions of dollars in aid.
On Monday (April 5), the administration informed lawmakers that it would give the Palestinians $40 million for law enforcement and security costs.
This newly allocated $40 million comes on top of $75 million in assistance for infrastructure, health and civil society groups the administration told Congress about on March 28, and the $15 million in coronavirus assistance it announced a day earlier.
Washington paints these aid sums as being for the best of causes: $15 million in coronavirus assistance (PPEs, ventilators, vaccines), $75 million for infrastructure, health, and civil society groups, and the latest $40 million for security and law enforcement. What kind of a grinch would oppose these sums? Well, you could, and I could. For money is fungible; sums that the PA no longer has to pay for coronavirus assistance, health, electricity, water, civil society groups, and law enforcement, will now be available for it to provide terrorists and their families with generous monthly stipends, with what is called the “Pay-For-Slay” program. No matter what may be the claimed purpose of this revived American aid to the PA, it has the effect of freeing up other money to pay the stipends to terrorists and their families. The announcement of such aid should have triggered application of the Taylor Force Act. That it did not is a function of the Democrats holding both houses of Congress; they are willing, apparently, to let the Biden Administration pretend that some kinds of aid – called ‘humanitarian,” health,” and “security” — are exempt from the provisions of the Taylor Force Act. But there are no exemptions in the Taylor Force Act.
Supporting an enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a core US national security objective,” the State Department said in the notification, which was dated April 2 but transmitted only on Monday. “As an essential part of this effort, US government assistance seeks to build professional and accountable security and criminal justice institutions that maintain security and stability in the West Bank, uphold the rule of law, contribute directly to regional security, and protect the population.”
The Biden administration has made no secret of its belief that former president Donald Trump’s approach to the Mideast, which alienated the Palestinians, was flawed and made prospects for peace less likely. The new assistance appears aimed at encouraging the Palestinians to return to negotiations with Israel, though there is no indication it will have that effect and Israel has yet to weigh in publicly.
Are the Palestinians not more likely to return to negotiations if they continue to be denied American aid, and if the only way they can have that spigot of aid turned on again is first, by ending their Pay-For-Slay program and, second, by agreeing to enter into negotiations without preconditions with Israel? Fewer carrots, please, and more sticks. When has appeasing the Palestinians ever worked? Did it work when first Arafat, and then Mahmoud Abbas, were offered almost 97% of the West Bank by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert? Didn’t they both walk away? Did it work when Israel pulled every last Israeli out of Gaza, only to see the Strip turn into a base for the terror group Hamas to launch attacks on Israel?
The administration is also expected as early as this week to announce a resumption in funding to the UN agency that deals with Palestinians, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The Trump administration had slashed funding to the Palestinians to almost nothing and ended support for the UN agency as it adopted a staunchly pro-Israel approach in its handling of the Middle East….
American aid to the scandal-ridden UNRWA was ended under Trump for two reasons. First, the Administration was tired of the Palestinian refugee rolls ever expanding, because alone of all the tens of millions of refugees in the world since World War II, the Palestinian refugees have been allowed to treat their status as inheritable. Thus the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on (apparently with no limit contemplated), of the original Palestinian refugees been allowed to claim all the benefits – housing, medical care, education – of those original refugees. There are now more than five million “Palestinian refugees” receiving benefits from UNRWA. But there are only 30,000 legitimate Palestinian refugees – that is, people who left Mandatory Palestine/Israel between 1947 and 1949. The Trump administration was no longer going to fund this farce; the Biden administration, on the other hand, is eager to do so.
There was another matter that helped convince the Trump administration to cut off aid to UNRWA. This was the use of schoolbooks that remain full of anti-Israel and, especially, viciously antisemitic passages that UNRWA has repeatedly promised to excise, but has never yet done so. The meretriciousness of UNRWA in not fulfilling those promises convinced the Trump administration that UNRWA was never going to do so. UNRWA’s Palestinian staff wanted those textbooks to remain as they now are; they have no trouble with antisemitic passages, which reflect their own thinking about Jews.
Just a week before leaving office, Pompeo accused UNRWA of being “riddled with waste, fraud [and] concerns of support to terrorism” and said there are fewer than 200,000 [sic] legitimate Palestinian refugees still alive….
UNRWA has been riven by scandals at the very top, of sexual malfeasance, embezzlement of funds for personal use, and nepotism, that led to the forced resignation of UNRWA’s director, Pierre Krahenbuhl, and several of his lieutenants in 2019. But the waste and fraud go far deeper; UNRWA’s staff is almost entirely Palestinian; they are intent on spending as much money for the Palestinians – and for themselves – from foreign donors as possible. They have been willing, for example, to let dead Palestinians remain on their rolls, and to supply these “dead refugees” with subsidized living quarters and food vouchers which their living relatives are quite determined to use as their own. UNRWA officials turn the other way. And UNRWA personnel are not subject to outside audit.
Already, a handful of Republicans are preparing to challenge the aid, maintaining that it violates the so-called Taylor Force and the Anti-Terrorism Clarification acts, both of which passed with strong bipartisan support.
There should be no question that the Biden Administration has repeatedly – so far three times, with three different aid packages – violated the Taylor Force Act. It doesn’t bother to offer an explanation as to why it thinks this aid does not violate the act, but its assumption must be that by designating such aid as being for “humanitarian causes” – coronavirus assistance, general health, security – the Administration thinks it can render such aid exempt from the provisions of Taylor Force. But now some Republican Congressmen have been prepared to challenge that aid, however the Biden people have characterized it, as a violation of Taylor Force.
The resumption of assistance comes days after the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office issued a report that found the US government had not properly vetted all of its Palestinian funding recipients for US antiterrorism criteria as required by law between 2015 and 2019, when Trump severed most of the aid.
Before Trump stopped aid to the PA and to UNRWA, the USAID was apparently negligent in its vetting of Palestinian recipients of assistance, to ensure that no terror groups, directly or indirectly, benefited from such aid.
While it [the Government Accountability Office] said the US Agency for International Development had followed the law with respect to people and groups it funded directly, it had not done the same with entities, known as sub-grantees, to which those groups then distributed taxpayer dollars. “If funding resumes, we recommend measures to improve compliance,” said the GAO report, which was released last week….
American money from USAID has been going directly to people and groups; these “grantees” in turn give money to “subgrantees” that receive this aid. But the USAID apparently stopped investigating at the first level of aid grantee, never thinking it should also investigate subgrantees.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly refused to accept a phone call from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken a month and a half ago, demanding that the new administration’s first call come directly from the Oval Office.
Naturally Blinken was apologetic, saying that he completely understood, such an insult would not be repeated, of course Mahmoud Abbas was absolutely right to not take a phone call from anyone other than President Biden, and Blinken quickly offered to instead speak to the PA’s Foreign Affairs Minister which, in fact, he did. At least Biden has had the good sense not to call Abbas; let the raging rais in Ramallah stew at this perceived slight.
It would be useful for the Republican Congressmen now ready to challenge the Biden Administration’s decision to send aid to the PA, already amounting, in three tranches, to $115 million, with much more to come, to ask the Administration to explain to Congress and the American people why it thinks it can violate the express terms of the Taylor Force Act. Is there any evidence to suggest that Congress wanted some kinds of aid to the PA to be exempt from the Act? Has the PA modified in the slightest its Pay-For-Slay Program? Have the Palestinians done something to deserve receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in aid?
The Administration’s struggle to answer should prove instructive.
First published in Jihad Watch.