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House Democrats demand 'transparency' in Trump's review of Palestinian aid funds

Displaced people from the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp queuing to receive aid from UNRWA in Yalda, south of the Syrian capital, Damascus in 2015.
(AFP/File)

Democratic representatives of the US House Foreign Affairs Middle East Subcommittee have demanded greater transparency from the Trump administration regarding its review of the United States’ aid funding to the Palestinian Authority and Gaza Strip.

In a letter addressed to President Trump, all nine Democrats who sit on the committee ask for the “timeline and metrics” being used to assess US assistance to the Palestinians, which according to the letter has been frozen in its entirety since January 2018.

The lawmakers expressed concern that despite repeated inquiries “there seems to be no information available to Members of Congress as to the nature, scope, or duration of this assistance review.”

In January, the White House froze $65 million in funding from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN branch dedicated exclusively to providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinians.

The White House said at the time that it was “reviewing” its aid to the Palestinian Authority after President Mahmoud Abbas refused to meet with senior US officials in protest of Washington’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and decision to relocate the US embassy there.

Last month, i24NEWS confirmed that the entire Palestinian aid budget had been quietly frozen at Trump’s direction pending a review of the PA’s practice of providing social benefits to Palestinians convicted of politically motivated violence.

SAID KHATIB (AFP)

The lawmakers said that while it is important to ensure that US funds are not “diverted from its intended purposes, or even worse, inadvertently benefiting the terrorist organization Hamas...it is unnecessary to withhold funding while conducting this review.”

“We believe these crucial humanitarian funds must be restored in order to save innocent lives and prevent Hamas from taking advantage of the situation by provoking a dangerous escalation with Israel.”

The legislators warned of the “catastrophic” impact of the US funding freeze, estimating that as a result, “140,000 people will cease to receive emergency food and non-food assistance, 42,000 patients will not receive essential health services, 50,000 youths will lack access to life skills development, and 12,250 people will lose paid entrepreneurship opportunities.”

“These dire humanitarian circumstances already pose a serious risk to our ally Israel’s security, and that threat only grows the longer humanitarian assistance remains frozen.”

The letter was signed by Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, New York Rep. Eliot Engel, Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly, Florida Rep. Lois Frankel, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, California Rep. Ted Lieu and Illinois Rep. Brad Schneider.

AFP

The House lawmakers’ request came as the Trump administration was reportedly shifting to a “Gaza first” strategy which would see a major infusion of development aid into the blockaded Palestinian enclave, making it more difficult for the Palestinians to continue to snub peace talks.

Abbas has derided the strategy as an attempt to further divide the PA and rivals Hamas and reduce talks with Israel to a purely humanitarian emergency.

The unveiling of the Trump team’s long-promised “deal of the century” has hit a roadblock over the Palestinians’ diplomatic freeze-out, though Trump’s son-in-law and pointman on the peace process Jared Kushner has insisted the proposal will be revealed “soon.”

Many Palestinians, who view Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, decried the unilateral move and said they no longer view the US as an impartial broker in peace negotiations with Israel.

See also:

EXCLUSIVE: US freezes Palestinian aid budget

Australia ends direct aid to PA amid concerns over funds funneled to terrorists

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