US congressional committee moves to restore aid to Palestinians

The $66bn spending bill would also maintain US funding for the World Health Organization through 2021.

Nita Lowey
New York Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey inserted an amendment in a congressional spending bill that would restore US aid to Palestinians [File: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

A subcommittee in the United States House of Representatives approved a measure on Thursday that, as part of a broader foreign aid spending bill, would reverse a Trump administration decision suspending aid to Palestinians and restore millions in aid to non-governmental organisations working in the West Bank and Gaza.

The move by a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee – inserted into a $66bn State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs funding bill – would restore $255m in aid to the territories during the 2021 fiscal year, which begins on October 1 this year. The aid was cut off in 2018 by the Trump administration after Palestinian officials dismissed a peace plan proposed by the president.

The amendment was introduced by the committee’s chairwoman, Nita Lowey, a Democrat from New York who is seen as a pro-Israel stalwart and one of the most influential Jewish legislators on Capitol Hill. In October 2019, the 82-year-old Lowey announced she would not be seeking re-election in 2020.

During markup of the bill, Lowey said her measure would direct aid to be delivered “directly to the Palestinian people” through non-governmental organisations working in the region.

“What we can do is ensure that life-saving, critically needed assistance is not politicised by our administration or the PA [Palestinian Authority] and that it is delivered through trusted NGOs directly to the Palestinian people,” she said, according to The Hill newspaper.

“In so doing we can ensure that the United States regains our position as a defender of stability and peace in an area of the world about which we all care so passionately. That’s all my amendment seeks to do,” she added.

She said the amendment would effectively strip the authority of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to suspend aid to the Palestinian territories.

In 2018, the Trump administration cut off some $200m in aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) after officials rebuffed a peace proposal authored by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. At the time, the administration also suspended aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that provides assistance to some 5.6 million Palestinian refugees from 1948 and their descendants.

The larger foreign aid spending bill also maintains US funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), which Trump notified earlier this week the US would be withdrawing from in July 2021. The topline $66bn figure represents an $8.5bn increase from the previous year’s spending and is $21.5bn more than the president’s budget request.

Lowey’s amendment passed the committee by a voice vote. The larger $66bn foreign aid spending bill passed by a 29 to 21 vote of the full committee. The bill will move to the full House for approval in coming weeks and must be meshed with a Senate version before it can go to the president for his signature.

Source: Al Jazeera