U.S. Aid to Palestine: Historical Development and Recent Strategy

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CHICAGO, Illinois — Though the conflict between Israel and Palestine is over seven decades old, a peaceful resolution remains elusive today. Over the years, U.S. aid to Palestine has fluctuated depending upon the presidential administration and the nature of tumult in the region.

Palestine’s Plight

Before the official 1948 declaration of Israel’s statehood, Arab Palestinians mostly occupied the land. Immediately following the declaration, violent clashes began between the Israeli and Arab states, which ultimately led to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Following the war, Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip, Jordan controlled the West Bank and Israel had expanded its boundaries to almost 80% of the region.

The Israeli expansion led to more than 700,000 Palestinians being “forced to flee their homes” without the promise of return. In fact, as of 2018, most of the Palestinian refugees living in the Gaza Strip are displaced descendants of 1948. The Six-Day War in 1967 further weakened the Palestinian’s hold on the region. Israel seized the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Golan Heights from neighboring Syria.

Israel occupied those territories up until the mid-1990s. During that time the Oslo Peace Accords renegotiations limited Palestinian self-governance contingent upon their disavowal of terrorism. However, despite the promise these talks held, the impact was short-lived. Only five years after the original agreement, Palestinian officials accused Israel of not following through with troop withdrawal or settlement reduction in the West Bank while Israeli officials criticized the Palestinian Authority’s failure to control terrorism in the region.

Further complicating matters, since 2006, Gaza has been controlled by an Islamist political group called Hamas, a terrorist organization. Since their occupation, the strip has one of the highest poverty rates in the world. Protests, bombings, murders and other acts of violence have become commonplace. Additionally, Israel’s hardline blockade of the strip had a devastating impact on Gaza people “with severely restricted freedom of movement, crippling [of]the economy and rendering the majority of the population dependent on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs,” according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

U.S. Aid to Palestine

U.S. Aid to Palestine “is intended to help the Palestinians with security, economic development and self-governance.” From 1950 to 1994, U.S. aid was channeled predominantly through the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. Bilateral aid began in the mid-1990s when Palestinians achieved limited self-rule. Since 1994, the U.S. has given more than $5 billion in aid to UNRWA. This agency has provided healthcare, education, protection, emergency response, relief and social services as well as infrastructure and camp improvement in order to advance the human development of Palestine refugees.

Changes in U.S. presidential administrations and political shifts in the Middle East have altered yearly aid. During George W. Bush’s Presidency, U.S. aid to Palestine peaked in 2005 as a result of Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential victory but substantially dipped in 2007 following Hamas’ occupation of Gaza. At the time of the initial Hamas occupation, “the United States halted direct foreign aid but continued providing humanitarian and project assistance.” The Obama administration increased aid to Palestine with a significant increase in 2008 and 2009 aimed at supporting “post-conflict humanitarian needs in Gaza and reform and development priorities in the West Bank.”

George W Bush Administration Aid:

2004 127.4 million

2005 108.0 million

2006 137.0 million

2007 154.2 million

Barack Obama Administration Aid:

2008 184.7 million

2009 268.0 million

2010 237.8 million

2011 249.4 million

2012 233.3 million

2013 294.0 million

2014 398.7 million

2015 390.5 million

The Trump Years

Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as well as his acceptance of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights not only reversed half-century-long U.S. policy positions but also caused the Palestinian Authority to completely break contact with the Trump administration, forestalling any meaningful dialogue between Israel and Palestine during his presidency.

The Trump administration made significant cuts to U.S. aid to Palestine. In fact, Trump cited the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to take part in his administration’s peace initiative as a reason for ending both bilateral aid as well as contributions to UNRWA. When Trump took office in 2017, the U.S. was the largest donor to UNRWA. But in 2018, the Trump administration ended all support for UNRWA. The slashes in aid caused 34 U.S. senators to collectively urge the President to reverse the cuts, which made it impossible for almost 150,000 individuals to receive emergency food aid, 3,000 children and families to receive healthcare and around 70,000 individuals to receive access to clean water.

Donald Trump Administration Aid:

2016 – 359.5 million

2017 – 359.3 million

2018 – The Trump Administration ended aid to UNRWA

Biden’s Aid to Palestine

Directly contrasting Trump’s position in U.S. aid to Palestine, Joe Biden’s administration announced in March that it would provide $15 million of assistance to address Covid-19 impact and food insecurity in the West Bank and Gaza. An April 7 press release from Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed an additional $235 million of U.S. aid to Palestine. He announced that “$75 million will be spent on economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, $10 million for peacebuilding programs and $150 million in humanitarian assistance for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).”

The UNRWA Commissioner-General Phillippe Lazzarini said the agency “could not be more pleased that once again we will partner with the United States to provide critical assistance to some of the most vulnerable refugees across the Middle East.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will observe its 75th anniversary during Joe Biden’s term. With the most recent escalation of the conflict, the need for U.S. aid to the region is more pressing than ever.

Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr

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