Thursday, April 08, 2021

Throwing Good Money After Bad - $310 Million

For the record, from the State Department Press Briefing – April 7, 2021 

by Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

MR PRICE: ...And today, we’re pleased to announce that, working with Congress, we plan to restart the U.S. economic – U.S. economic, development, security, and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people. It includes $75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, 10 million for peacebuilding programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, and 150 million in humanitarian assistance for the UN Relief Works Agency, or UNRWA. All assistance, of course, will be provided consistent with U.S. law.

Assistance includes, among other things, support for small and medium enterprises’ recovery from the effects of COVID-19; support for needy households to access basic human needs, including food and clean water; and support for Palestinian civil society. A portion of this funding will support the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, as it continues to provide the necessary and life-saving treatments to Palestinians. This funding is in addition to the $15 million in humanitarian assistance to address COVID-19 pandemic and food insecurity that we announced last month.

U.S. foreign assistance for the Palestinians serves important U.S. interests and values, including providing critical relief to those in need, fostering economic development, and supporting Israeli-Palestinian understanding, as well as security and stability in a volatile region.  It aligns with the values and the interests of the United States as well as those of our allies and partners.  The United States is committed to advancing prosperity, security, and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians in tangible ways in the immediate term, which is important in its own right, of course, but also as a means to advance towards a negotiated two-state solution.

The United States encourages other donors to support programs and activities that work toward a common goal of stability and progress for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

QUESTION: So I got two things, both on the Middle East, including – well, one on that. When you say that all this aid is going to be provided in – well, consistent with U.S. law, I’m curious as to how actually you’re going to do that.


QUESTION: Because U.S. law – there’s several of them – says that the U.S. cannot provide money to the Palestinian Authority, or – perhaps more importantly – money that would be fungible, that would be used for projects and programs that they – that a government would otherwise do as long as they continue to pay stipends to people convicted of anti-Israel or anti-U.S. attacks and their families. So how exactly are you going to square this?


QUESTION: Because as you’re aware, since reports about this have come out for a week or so, there have been growing opposition in Congress.

MR PRICE: Well, let me just start there. And I don’t want to characterize the reactions of individual members, but I think it is fair to say that we have been gratified by the reaction that we have heard from Congress on a bipartisan basis. Members of Congress, just as we do, recognize that the aid we announced today is consistent with our interests, it is consistent with our values, it is consistent with the interests of those in the region, to include Palestinians not only in the West Bank and Gaza but also in the broader region as well, as well as the interests of our Israeli partners.

Now, you asked about how we ensure that this aid is consistent with applicable U.S. law, including the Taylor Force Act. I just want to underscore that —


MR PRICE: I’m sorry?


MR PRICE: And ATCA. And I just want to underscore that all of this aid is absolutely consistent with relevant U.S. law, including those two statutes. As we do around the world, we provide assistance in the West Bank and Gaza through experienced and trusted independent partners on the ground, and it’s these partners who distribute directly to people in need, not through government or de facto government authorities. Our development partners in the West Bank and Gaza have aggressive risk mitigation systems in place aimed at ensuring just that – namely, that U.S. taxpayer-funded assistance is reaching those for whom it is intended: the women, the men, the children in need of lifesaving assistance.

Now, you asked about this fairly technical issue as to how we ensure that this aid is consistent with the Taylor Force Act —


MR PRICE: — and that it doesn’t directly —

QUESTION: Okay, fine, but I would not say that that’s “fairly technical.”

MR PRICE: No, no, no – well, I’m getting to a technical point.

QUESTION: You’re either breaking the law or you’re following the law. That’s not a technical —

MR PRICE: Well, it is – you’re right, it is very clear. We are following the law. Everything we are doing here is quite consistent with it, scrupulously so. But you did ask about how we ensure this doesn’t benefit —


MR PRICE: Directly benefit the Palestinian Authority, which is the relevant provision, and assistance considered as quote-unquote “directly benefiting” the PA is actually defined in the Department of State – defined by the Department of State and was transmitted to Congress in May of 2018. And in making this determination, we take several conditions into account, including the intended primary beneficiary or end user of the assistance; whether the PA is the direct recipient of the assistance, of course; whether the assistance involves payments of Palestinian Authority creditors; the extent of ownership or control the PA exerts over an entity or an individual that is the primary beneficiary or end user of the assistance; and whether the assistance or, in some cases, the services provided directly replace assistance or services that the PA would otherwise provide.

So we take all of that scrupulously into account – not only Taylor Force, not only ATCA, every relevant statute – to ensure, again, that what we are doing is in service of our interests, our values, consistent with U.S. law, and betters the lives of the people in the region.

QUESTION: Okay. As it relates to the UNRWA assistance, the 150 million to UNRWA, the Israelis have already come out and said that they’re concerned about this, that they don’t think it’s a good idea because the – because UNRWA, they think, is – well, one, that it’s non-transparent and that it promotes anti-Israel activity; and then secondly, the previous secretary of state just before he left office really laid a – quite a harsh allegation against UNRWA, saying that there’re fewer than 200,000 refugees that it actually serves from 1948. So one, do you – or, well, one, when you say you take into consideration Congressional concerns, are you also taking into account Israeli concerns? And then secondly, are you repudiating former Secretary of State Pompeo’s criticism of UNRWA that it’s riddled with corruption and is not serving anywhere near the number of quote-unquote “real” refugees?

MR PRICE: Well, you asked about UNRWA. Let me just say one more word on the bilateral assistance we’re providing to the Palestinian people because it gets to your question about security, and that is, of course, that we have an enduring commitment to Israel’s security. It is a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Middle East but also, beyond that, globally. Likewise, we are committed to advancing the safety and the security of the Palestinian people. As we said in a statement earlier this week, we believe that Israelis and Palestinians should enjoy equal measures of security, prosperity, and dignity.

Now, when it comes to U.S. security assistance, that has played a key role in strengthening Palestinian Authority security forces capable of or, in some cases, willing to partner with Israel to address regional instability. We expect that a key part of our security assistance going forward will be working to advance the rule of law in the West Bank for the benefit of all through the development of professional and accountable security and criminal justice institutions, institutions that, by the way, are able to maintain security and stability in the West Bank to uphold the rule of law, to contribute directly to regional security, and to protect the population. That is not only in the interests of the Palestinian people. That, of course, is in the interests of our Israeli partners.

And as you know or as you might have guessed, we have engaged at multiple levels repeatedly with our Israeli partners on these questions. Of course, it was noted in the recent readout of the call between Secretary Blinken and his counterpart, Foreign Minister Ashkenazi. I wouldn’t want to characterize any further those diplomatic conversations, but we do all of this, again, consistent with the interests and the values of this country.

QUESTION: You don’t have to characterize it because the Israelis have already come out and said they think it’s a bad idea. So – or so the reservations that Congress has about this and the opposition that Israel has about this doesn’t matter; is that what you’re saying?

MR PRICE: Matt, we are doing this consistent with the values and the interests of the United States and also with the interests of those in the region as well. You did ask about UNRWA —


MR PRICE: — and concerns there, so let me just take a moment to note how seriously we take oversight of – our oversight role of UNRWA when it comes to UNRWA’s policies, programs, and finances. We take them extraordinary seriously. Got a long answer here.

QUESTION: You don’t really have to go on – you don’t have to drone on forever about it. But just, like, you are repudiating what the former administration thought about UNRWA? Do you still – do you believe, as the previous secretary of state did, that UNRWA serves a very, very small number of Palestinian refugees as opposed to what they claim to serve?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to characterize what the previous administration might have said or might have concluded. I am relaying here what this institution, what this secretary of state, what this administration, and what this building thinks and has concluded. And that is, again, that is that these steps and measures that we’ve announced today are consistent with our interests and our values.

I think the other point I would make is that even when the United States had stopped its support for UNRWA, the United States, and in this case the previous administration, did maintain a dialogue even in the absence of funding with UNRWA. By resuming this assistance today, not only do we have that dialogue, but we have a seat at the table. We can help drive UNRWA in the ways that we think it is in our interest and consistent with our values to do. Obviously, there are areas where we would like to see reform. We will continue to be in a position, an even greater position to drive and to steer UNRWA in a direction that we think is productive and useful with this step today.


QUESTION: Can I actually get you to elaborate on that? So you do think that UNRWA needs to be reformed. Can you identify in which areas? And also, by restoring this aid today, are you guys working towards restoring to the amount of $365 million, which was in 2017? Is that what you’re aiming for, and what’s the path to that look like? But don’t forget the first one I asked.

MR PRICE: Well, let me start with the first one. It is absolutely the case that we are committed to closely engaging with UNRWA to uphold its neutrality, to promote human rights and tolerance and education, and to improve the agency’s effectiveness and sustainability, and we plan to do that in a few different ways. One, we plan to do that bilaterally with the agency, with UNRWA, to improve its transparency, accountability, and internal governance and oversight processes. And two, multilaterally to improve its sustainability over time.

The point I made before is absolutely a critical one. Even in the absence of the funding that the previous administration halted, we – in this case the previous administration maintained a dialogue with UNRWA. Now not only do we have a dialogue, but we have a seat at the table. We are able to help effect these reforms – these reforms that we think are necessary, these reforms that we think are important – in a manner that is much more – that will be much more effective going forward.


QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have two questions on the Palestinians and one on Iraq. On the Palestinian issue, so would you say that any part of this money will go to support election in East Jerusalem since you value the democratic process? Number one. And number two, would you say that this money is trying to address a severe humanitarian need or also double as a carrot for the Palestinian Authority to come back to the negotiation table?

MR PRICE: This is – these are humanitarian steps when it comes to the humanitarian aid that we have announced today. The Secretary was speaking in a completely different context earlier this week when he said that we don’t trade shots in arms for political favors. But I think the broader principle is one that stands. This is consistent with who we are as a people. It also happens to be consistent with what is in our interest. And when we talk about the humanitarian funding that we are – I would – that we have announced today, it is to alleviate the – in many cases the humanitarian suffering that Palestinians have endured, whether it is in the West Bank, whether it’s in Gaza, or whether it’s in the broader region.

Now, when it comes to the question of elections, again, I would make the point that everything we are doing is going to be consistent with ATCA, it’s going to be consistent with the Taylor Force Act, and as we do around the world, we are providing this assistance through experienced and trusted independent partners on the ground who in turn distribute that aid. Palestinian elections are a matter for the Palestinian people. I think I would leave it at that in terms of our announcement today.


QUESTION: Yes, I was just wondering if the Secretary or any official in this building has made sort of calls with the Palestinian officials ahead of today’s announcement. If not, when would they do that? And another question: Is there any update about the pledges to reopen the diplomatic – the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C.?

MR PRICE: Well, I would reiterate the point I have said before that we believe it is important for us to have a partnership with the Palestinian people and with Palestinian officials. I don’t have any calls to read out – I would imagine if Secretary Blinken had a call with his Palestinian counterpart, we would be in a position to read that out – nor do I have any calls to preview, but it is true that we have engaged extensively with stakeholders, including officials in the region, but I don’t have any details of that to read out.

Now, when it comes to the ways in which we will engage with the Palestinian people and Palestinian authorities, obviously today’s announcement, the announcement of funding on a bilateral basis for the Palestinian people and through UNRWA is an important element of that, but it is not the only way in which we intend to do that. But I just don’t have any announcements to preview at this time.

QUESTION: I don’t think you answered my first question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) 365. Is that the aim that you’re going to eventually increase this? Is that where you’re going?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to – I’m – today we’re talking about a significant, a sizable, an ambitious announcement of funding. I don’t have anything to preview beyond today.

QUESTION: Did you have any comment that —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) this is the first tranche, because I know that the administrations have usually provided their UNRWA funding in trenches – tranches, whatever – leading up to the full amount. So you haven’t made a decision about whether you’re going to go back to that historic amount of (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: I just don’t have anything to preview today. We are in April of 2021. Of course there are many months left in this fiscal year. But I just don’t have anything to preview today as to where we are heading.

QUESTION: But then I turn to the security assistance. That’s – is that like the 60 million extra that’s not part of the number that you put into this press release?

MR PRICE: We – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The security assistance.


QUESTION: You said we’re also resuming vital security assistance programs. So that’s separate from the numbers that you have in this press release, right?

MR PRICE: We can – we can – if we have more details on exactly what that security assistance looked like – looks like in terms of numbers, we can let you know.

QUESTION: Did you guys ever have a response to the GAO report that found that USAID had not followed all of the – all of the requirements of the Taylor Force and ATCA laws in awarding not direct grantees but sub-grantees?

MR PRICE: Well, we are of course aware of the GAO report. We have welcomed the report. We take it, its findings, very seriously. It’s important to note that this GAO report found no cases of U.S. funding going to parties, providers on the ground who failed vetting. USAID is already taking steps to strengthen its existing, extensive antiterrorism procedures. I would also say that the funding we have announced today takes into account that report and our implementation of that funding has and will take into account what the GAO put forward. Again, the bottom line here is that this administration is firmly committing to – committed to ensuring that all U.S. assistance is provided in accordance with antiterrorism requirements and all U.S. laws, including the Taylor Force Act.



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OnlineCommentingGuy said...

Plain English:
This administration believes it is the greater good to support the Palestinian Arabs. We don't give a damn about pesky laws that obligate otherwise. Our anti-Western world view demands this move and we'll weasel out of any obstacles to pursuing it. And if a few Jews get murdered along the way, Israeli or American or otherwise, well, that's a risk we're willing to take. No skin off our noses.