US’s plans to restore aid to Palestinians ‘fully comply with law’, Biden team says

Palestinian man outside UN's Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza City (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  January 29, 2021

Trump-era legislation will not obstruct plans to restore aid to Palestinians or re-open diplomatic missions, State Department says.

Resuming US aid to Palestine will not violate legislation against US funds being allocated to the Palestinian Authority (PA) over its welfare payments to the families of those imprisoned by Israel, a State Department spokesperson said. 

The official provided the clarification to media following allegations by Republican lawmakers that the administration’s plans to resume US aid to Palestine would violate the 2018 Taylor Force Act. 

“In administering aid, the Biden-Harris administration will fully comply with US law, including the Taylor Force Act,” a State Department spokesperson said in a media statement.

Earlier this week, Richard Mills, acting US ambassador to the UN, announced that the Biden administration plans to restore US aid to Palestine and re-open Palestinian diplomatic missions in Washington that were shuttered under former President Donald Trump. 

Following Mills’s announcement, Republican Senator Tom Cotton told the Washington Free Beacon that any resumption of aid to the PA would inadvertently provide the government with funds that would be used to continue its prisoner welfare programme. 

“The resumption of any US foreign assistance that indirectly funds the Palestinian Authority’s pay-for-slay terrorist program would violate US law, betray our Israeli partners, and put Americans living in or visiting Israel in harm’s way,” Cotton said.

Palestinians view suspects jailed in Israel as prisoners of war held by an illegal occupation force. The funds, the PA says, are welfare payments made to support political prisoners and their families.

More than 4,400 Palestinians, including 160 children and 440 held without charge or trial, are currently imprisoned by Israel.

Palestinians have long challenged the validity of Israel’s military court system, which solely tries Palestinians. In 2010, the court self-reported a 99.74 percent conviction rate.

The PA has also pointed to the massive rates of unemployment – stagnant at almost 30 percent in the occupied West Bank and 50 percent in Gaza – as reasons the payments are necessary for society to function. 

Meanwhile, in addition to questions over aid, David Friedman, the Trump administration’s ambassador to Israel, has challenged the legality of allowing the Palestinians to reopen a diplomatic mission in Washington. 

In a post to Twitter, Friedman asserted that the reopening of diplomatic offices “is against federal law” based on the same PA prisoner welfare programme.

The Biden administration has yet to release a timeline as to when its moves to normalise relations with Palestine will take place, but insists on the legality of such policies. 

Still, the legal challenges brought up by both Cotton and Friedman underscore a range of obstacles Biden faces in restoring ties with the Palestinians and reversing actions taken by Trump, who overturned decades of US Middle East policy, particularly regarding Israel.