Former US President Barack Obama, in his waning hours, quietly released $221 million to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which Congress had been blocking.
The Trump administration announced it is freezing the move.
The State Department is reviewing a last-minute decision by former Secretary of State John Kerry to send $221 million dollars to the Palestinians late last week over the objections of congressional Republicans.
A State Department official and several congressional aides said the outgoing administration formally notified Congress it would spend the money Friday morning. The official said former Secretary of State John Kerry had informed some lawmakers of the move shortly before he left the State Department for the last time Thursday.
The aides said a written notification dated January 20 was sent to Congress just hours before Donald Trump took the oath of office.
Congress had initially approved the Palestinian funding in budget years 2015 and 2016.The funds, supposedly intended for reconstruction in Gaza and good governance programs for the Palestinian Authority, were being blocked by at least two Republican lawmakers— Ed Royce (R-CA), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Kay Granger (R-TX), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee — in response to Palestinian attempts to join international organizations, from which it intended to launch more international campaigns against Israel and before a peace deal with Israel.
Granger released a statement Tuesday saying, “I am deeply disappointed that President Obama defied congressional oversight and released $221 million to the Palestinian territories.”
She also added: “I worked to make sure that no American taxpayer dollars would fund the Palestinian Authority unless very strict conditions were met. While none of these funds will go to the Palestinian Authority because of those conditions, they will go to programs in the Palestinian territories that were still under review by Congress. The Obama Administration’s decision to release these funds was inappropriate.”
The congressional aides said that in addition to the $221 million for the Palestinians, the Obama administration also informed Congress on Friday that it was going ahead with the release of another $6 million in foreign affairs spending, including $4 million for climate change programs and $1.25 million for United Nations organizations.
According to the notification sent to Congress, the Obama administration for some time had been pressing for the release of the money for the PA, which comes from the US Agency for International Development and is supposedly to be used for humanitarian aid, to support political and security reforms as well as help prepare for good governance and the rule of law in a future Palestinian state,
When asked about the transfer by a reporter during Tuesday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said:
“Trump is very concerned about how taxpayer money is spent, whether it’s sent overseas and what we get for it in terms of the relationship or our support for a democracy or aid to another country for their defenses. But he’s going to be examining all aspects of the budget… He’s going to make sure that every deal, every dollar that is spent by the government is done in a way that respects the American taxpayer.”
The Palestinian funding is very likely to draw anger from some in Congress as well as the White House. Trump has vowed to be a strong supporter of Israel and has already invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Washington next month.