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State department to reconsider releasing $221 million to Palestinians

US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) and State Department Chief of Staff Jon Finer (L) meet with members of the US delegation during Iran nuclear talks in Vienna
Carlos Barria (POOL/AFP/File)
The decision to release the funds was 'inappropriate', says one GOP lawmaker who previously placed hold

The US State Department is reconsidering the decision made in the final hours of the Obama administration last week to transfer 221 million dollars over to the Palestinian Authority.

Defying GOP members of Congress who had been blocking the funding, Secretary of State John Kerry, notified some lawmakers of the move hours before the end of his tenure on Thursday January 19, while aides said Congress received a written notice on January 20, hours before Trump's inauguration.

The department announced on Tuesday, that it would review the funds and make adjustments in accordance to the new Trump administration.

Initially, congress had approved the budget for Palestinian funding in years 2015 and 2016, but had been frozen by at least two Republican lawmakers over the Palestinian Authority's efforts to join international organizations.

PAUL J. RICHARDS (AFP/File)

Such congressional holds are generally respected by the White House, but are not legally binding. The Obama administration had repeatedly pressed for the funds, which come from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), to be released.

One of the lawmakers, Kay Granger, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, released a statement on Tuesday expressing disappointment in former President Barack Obama’s decision to release the money, which "defied congressional oversight.”

“I worked to make sure that no American taxpayer dollars would fund the Palestinian Authority unless very strict conditions were met," Granger stated.

“While none of these funds will go to the Palestinian Authority because of those conditions, they will go to programs in the Palestinian territories that were still under review by Congress.”

“The Obama Administration’s decision to release these funds was inappropriate,” she added.

According to the notification sent to Congress, the funds are intended for humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, political and security reforms in the Palestinian territories, and to establish the foundations for good governance in a future Palestinian State.

Jewel Samad (AFP)

In addition to the $221 million sent to the Palestinians, the former Obama administration informed Congress Friday that it would also allocate $6 million for foreign affairs spending, including $4 million for climate change programs, and $1.25 million in voluntary contributions to UN organizations, the Associated Press reported.

The move by the former Democratic administration directly challenges the incoming Republican administration's agenda, with the new president, Donald Trump, having vowed to cancel billions of dollars in US funding to United Nations climate change programs and naming Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Trump has also taken an ardently pro-Israel stance after eight years of acrimony between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, peaking in December when the premier accused the now-former president of orchestrating a landmark UN Security Council vote which led to a resolution condemning Israel's settlement building in Palestinian territories.

In a phone call with Netanayhu on Sunday evening, Trump affirmed his "unprecedented commitment to Israel's security" and invited the premier to visit the White House in early February.

(Staff with agencies)

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