By Leah Cerilli
The United States has halted all aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank as of February 1. The move is part of US Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA).
Under ATCA, American citizens are able to sue any country receiving aid from the U.S. through the American legal system over complicity in “acts of war”. The Palestinian Authority is opting to reject all American aid in order to avoid such lawsuits, but denies accusations that it encourages “acts of war” such as violence and terrorism. The U.S. previously gave over $50 million in aid last year for the training and operations of Palestine’s security apparatuses. The U.S. did not initiate the cessation of this aid; it is part of the aid that Palestine is rejecting. Palestine fears economic hardship from potential lawsuits that would make it not worth receiving aid in the first place. All USAID operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have ceased, but no steps are currently being taken to close the USAID mission to the Palestinian Territories.
This is not the first time the U.S. has cut aid to Palestine. Last year, Washington cut hundreds of millions of dollars of funding to health, infrastructure and education humanitarian organizations supported by USAID. U.S. funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA) ceased in August 2018. The U.S. had previously been the largest donor to UNWRA, providing more than $360 million in 2017. Numerous public institutions such as schools and clinics funded by the UNWRA now face fears of closure or severe budget and job cuts. Humanitarian organizations in the West Bank and Gaza also report a general cutback in funding from donors worldwide, especially as they seek additional funding to make up for the lost American aid.
President Donald Trump claimed that the USAID cuts were meant to pressure the Palestinian Authority to pursue further peace talks with Israel. However, both measures are likely to further deteriorate the relationship between the U.S. and Palestine. This relationship is already especially fragile, given the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year.
The lack of Palestinian security aid could also negatively harm Israel. Although security relations can be tense, Israel and Palestine do share intelligence and coordinate arrests. This coordination is a positive function for both countries amid their countless disagreements, which will likely be damaged if Palestinian forces lose such a significant amount of funding. Additionally, a weakened Palestinian security apparatus is a regional security concern that can easily cross borders.