US trying to salvage financing of Palestinian security forces

The Trump administration is trying to find a way to continue giving money to Palestinian security forces and is receiving support for that from Israel.
Friday 01/02/2019
In this June, 2008 file photo, Palestinians unload bags of flour donated by the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, at a depot in the West Bank village of Anin near Jenin. (AP)
In this June, 2008 file photo, Palestinians unload bags of flour donated by the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, at a depot in the West Bank village of Anin near Jenin. (AP)

WASHINGTON - Prodded by the Israeli government, US officials are trying to change a law that would end all remaining financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, including funding for Palestinian Authority security forces.

The US law, enacted in October, aims to help Americans sue the Palestinian Authority in US courts for alleged acts of terror. However, in an apparent unintended consequence, the measure led Palestinian officials to refuse payment of $60 million the US government has given each year to Palestinian security forces.

The security funding is one of the last pieces of US monetary aid to the Palestinians since US President Donald Trump cut off contributions to Palestinian humanitarian and governance projects last year and ended US support of the UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdalla told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a January 18 letter that the Palestinian Authority “no longer wishes to accept any form of assistance” from the United States because it does not want to face possible court judgments ordering the payment of millions of dollars to American plaintiffs. “The government of Palestine unambiguously makes the choice not to accept such assistance,” he wrote.

US courts have routinely dismissed lawsuits against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), holding they were immune to liability under US law. The lawsuits accused the groups of facilitating terror attacks that killed or injured Americans.

The new effectively eliminated such immunity by stipulating that any country accepting US aid consents to being subject to American courts.

The Trump administration is trying to find a way to continue financially supporting the security forces and is receiving support from Israel, an unidentified Israeli official told the Washington Post. Israel and the United States are concerned about weakening the security forces, which play a vital role in maintaining order in the Palestinian territories and preventing attacks against Israelis.

The US aid is “the glue that has helped ensure the security coordination continues and that has successfully thwarted terrorist attacks,” Dan Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel, told the Post. “It is also a political signal that shows the Palestinian security forces and Palestinian people that the US is no longer a partner.”

Jewish-American groups joined the effort to persuade the White House and the US Congress to maintain security funding.

The Israel Policy Forum, an advocacy group in New York that supports US aid to the Palestinians, wrote in a recent blog posting that, since the end of the second intifada in 2005, the Palestinian Authority Security Forces had been “restructured, rehabilitated and professionalised, in no small part because of American assistance.”

The forces have worked with Israel to stop Palestinian attacks and received praise from the Israel Defence Forces.

Debra Shushan, policy director at Americans for Peace, which is tied to the Israeli peace movement, wrote January 28 in the Hill newspaper that the US law “will harm Israeli security” and “undermine US foreign policy” while the Trump administration develops a Middle East peace plan.

“The Palestinian security force works closely with Israel to maintain law and order in Palestinian cities and foil terrorism. Israeli security chiefs are unequivocal about the importance of this security coordination,” Shushan wrote.

The law grew out of a 2016 court decision that voided a $655 million verdict against the Palestinian Authority and the PLO in a suit brought by ten US families who suffered during terrorist attacks in Israel from 2002-04. Last year, the US Supreme Court declined to hear the case and the verdict was vacated. Two months later, Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act with little debate or opposition.

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