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US transfers funds to humanitarian organizations in Palestinian territory

March 9, 2017 12:36 P.M. (Updated: March 11, 2017 7:34 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The United States government has transferred millions in funds to humanitarian organizations operating in the occupied Palestinian territory, a US official told Ma'an on Thursday, denying earlier reports that the money was to be allocated to the Palestinian Authority (PA) government. 

In January, Barack Obama reportedly released $221 million to the PA during the last hours his presidency in defiance of Republican members of the US Congress, funds which were then reportedly frozen by Donald Trump after he was instated as president.

However, according to Deputy Spokesperson of US Department of State Mark Toner, the funds, which he said amounted to $220.3 million, were released to humanitarian organizations supporting the education and infrastructure sectors in the occupied Palestinian territory, and to reconstruction efforts in the besieged Gaza Strip following Israel’s devastating 2014 offensive -- and were never meant to be transferred to the PA.

US officials also told Ma'an that, contrary to initial reports, the funds had already been released to USAID and been earmarked for a number of "implementing partners," which include non-governmental organizations operating in the occupied Palestinian territory and creditors to which the PA owed money for electricity and other infrastructural needs.

"None of the funds have gone directly to the PA," sources reiterated.

Times of Israel had reported in January that the funds were put on hold by at least two Republican lawmakers, Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Kay Granger of Texas, when Granger released a statement saying that she was “deeply disappointed” by Obama's decision to release the money to the PA, and that she had “worked to make sure that no American taxpayer dollars would fund the Palestinian Authority unless very strict conditions were met.”

Trump’s administration reportedly then froze the funds, with the US State Department being quoted as saying that they were “reviewing” and would possibly “make adjustments” to ensure that the transfer “comports with the Trump administration's priorities.”

Trump has diverted from US policy in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as he has also been vocal in his support for moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and also abandoned the internationally supported two-state solution during a press conference last month, saying that he could “live with either” a two-state or one-state solution to the conflict.

Following Trump's election, Israel’s ultra-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that a Trump presidency would mark the end of a push for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

“This is the position of the president-elect, as written in his platform, and it should be our policy, plain and simple. The era of a Palestinian state is over,” he said.

While Obama had publicly condemned Israel’s settlement building in the past, the former president still signed a $38 billion military aid package back in September, promising Israel the hefty sum in the form of financial assistance and missile defense systems over the course of 10 years. The deal represents the largest foreign aid package given to a country in US history.
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