A key US senator is blocking $50 million in economic aid to the Palestinians, undermining Secretary of State Antony Blinken's promises of assistance following Israel's assault on Gaza in May and delaying much-needed water and road reconstruction.
Last month, Republican Senator James Risch used procedures under a 2018 US statute to put a stop on financing that had previously been approved by the US Congress, claiming he wanted to ensure the cash did not go to the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.
Risch's hold on the funding, according to supporters of US aid to the Palestinians, is politically driven and will eventually have to be lifted. A strong group of Democrats in the US House of Representatives, led by Jewish Representative Jamie Raskin, has requested that Risch provide the aid.
Despite the appeals, a spokesman for Risch confirmed on Monday that the hold is still in place.
“I really don't see any rationale for withholding assistance other than the Palestinian people's continuing dehumanization, mockery, and collective punishment, particularly in Gaza,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
“It's part of the Palestinian people's ongoing collective punishment, particularly in Gaza,” Abuznaid said.
Following Israel's 11-day assault of Gaza in May, Palestinians in the beleaguered enclave confront tremendous reconstruction hurdles in the midst of a ceasefire and an unclear future. Hundreds of structures were demolished by Israel, displacing over 100,000 residents. 256 Palestinians were murdered in the bombing, including 66 children.
The dispute in Congress over funding to Gaza and the occupied West Bank demonstrates how a pro-Israel statute enacted under the previous Trump administration could stymie the new Biden administration's efforts to de-escalate the crisis.
On May 25, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and promised $75 million in long-term development aid.
Risch and several other Republicans moved quickly to reject the majority of the payments, accusing the Palestinian Authority of misusing $150 million allocated by Abbas to compensate families of Palestinians who have killed Israelis in recent years.