Rejecting US funding may ultimately benefit Palestinians
The US Congress, at the behest of the powerful Israeli lobby, last year adopted a law that allows American citizens to file lawsuits against any foreign country that receives funding from Washington. The legislation was intended to circumvent US Supreme Court rulings that prohibit Americans from filing lawsuits against foreign countries. Last year, the Supreme Court threw out a $656 million award from a lawsuit that targeted the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was filed by the families of Israelis killed during violence between Israel and Palestinians in 2002.
The “Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act,” adopted last October, clears the way for American citizens to file lawsuits in US courts that would allow them to seize the US assets of targeted foreign entities. The new law technically applies to all foreign countries, but it was specifically adopted to pressure the Palestinian government.
The law’s chief sponsor is Republican Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a noted supporter of Israel and critic of the Palestinians and moderate Arab countries. Grassley won re-election in 2016 with the financial backing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Freedom from American dependency will allow the Palestinians an opportunity to develop a new strategy driven by the principles of justice, law and morality.
Most of the US funding earmarked to help the Palestinians has been curtailed by the administration of President Donald Trump, mainly in an effort to pressure the Palestinian government to enter into peace talks. Last year, Trump pulled $350 million in US aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides a wide range of services to Palestinian refugees, from housing to health and food in refugees camps, not just in the Israeli-occupied territories but in several Arab countries too. Additionally, hundreds of millions more in US funding have been pulled from other agencies, including USAID and the World Food Programme, which feeds more than 350,000 families in Gaza and the West Bank.
But the new legislation will have an unintended impact on Israel, as the Palestinians have decided to reject all future US funding to prevent them from falling under the new law. The US gives the PA money to fund its security forces, which cooperate with Israel to prevent extremist violence and acts of terrorism. Without that funding, the Israelis will end up shouldering the entire cost and security burden.
In a way, breaking its dependency on American funding is a good thing for the PA. Without US financial support, the Arab world will have to step up to the plate and fill the void. One of the largest contributors to the Palestinians is Saudi Arabia, which has supported their cause since the conflict began. In 2016, the Kingdom donated more than $148 million, more than any other Arab country or Gulf state. But funding from the rest of the Arab world overall has been inadequate, leading former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to assert that Arab countries “don’t really care” about the Palestinians.
In the short term, the US decision to cut off funds and seek creative ways to justify its citizens’ legal actions as a form of political bullying will create serious economic challenges for the Palestinians. In the long run, they will find themselves free of American influence and will be closer to the Arab world. Freedom from American dependency will allow the Palestinians an opportunity to develop a new strategy driven by the principles of justice, law and morality, rather than political subservience to America’s biased pro-Israel agenda.
On the other hand, these developments are typical of Trump’s manipulative pressure strategy to achieve his agenda. It does not always work but, when negotiating, he always seeks to weaken his adversaries. Trump is preparing to unveil his plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, reportedly calling for a two-state solution that revives many of the basic ideas discussed in the past.
Historically, the Palestinians have not succumbed to pressures. They willingly tried to work with Israel to make the Oslo Accords a success, until an Israeli terrorist assassinated Israel’s only real peacemaker, Yitzhak Rabin, in 2005.
Despite the withholding of funds, the Palestinian government should seriously consider the Trump peace plan and the opportunity to dig its way out of a decades-long period of occupation and suffering.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter.