July 31, 2018

U.S. review on Palestinian aid threatens coexistence groups

Many peacebuilding and humanitarian organizations that receive funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are being forced to shut down projects as a result of the Trump administration’s freeze of financial aid to the West Bank and Gaza. Although the U.S. Congress approved a budget of $250 million to the Palestinians for the current fiscal year, the Trump administration has since given no indication on when the freeze may be lifted as they review all financial aid to the Palestinians. Of this sum, $10 was to be used to support local coexistence groups.

While the Trump administration has maintained that the funding freeze is part of a broader examination of foreign aid budget cuts, many diplomats believe the freeze is intended to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table and end his boycott of Trump after the president’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last December.

Former USAID Assistant Administrator Dave Harden discussed how the freeze is negatively impacting local coexistence groups as he told Haaretz, “In Gaza we have Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and more extremist groups…The civil society is weak, the business community is weak. One of the only good things we have are the U.S. humanitarian groups. It’s a grave mistake to hurt them.”

While the freeze may be intended to pressure Abbas, Harden discussed the difference between withholding funds from the Palestinian security forces versus coexistence groups by stating that freezing the $10 intended for people-to-people programs could actually be seen as a benefit in the eyes of extremist groups.

Such coexistence groups are making their opinions known as well. After special envoy Jason Greenblatt recently hosted at the White House a group of Israeli and Palestinian children from the ALLMEP member group Kids4Peace, he praised their work on Twitter. In response, Kids4Peace thanked him for welcoming them and wrote “Our movement is strong because of USAID, which is helping Kids4Peace double in size and leverage our youth to influence their communities.”

If the money for the current fiscal year is not released by September, it would become nearly impossible to use. Democratic members of Congress recently sent a letter to Trump on the matter calling for transparency and an end to the funding freeze.

In an article with Haaretz, ALLMEP executive Director Joel Braunold stated:

Unlike previous administration appointees, Jason Greenblatt started off meeting with the grassroots [groups] and has a true appreciation of the work [coexistence groups] do…given his public comments and tweets, it is very hard to square his outward support for civic reconciliation with the holding of the $10 million budget to grassroots and people-to-people efforts.