This article originally appeared in Mondoweiss.
On the surface, reports over the weekend that Congress has blocked $200 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) indicate that long-standing threats from U.S. politicians over the PA’s United Nations bid have come to fruition. But there’s much more than meets the eye on this issue.
First, Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now throws cold water on the piece that first ran in the Independent (UK) and reported that the frozen funds were to have been “dispersed in the US fiscal year that ends today [October 1].” Not so, says Friedman, an expert on Congress’ involvement with Israel/Palestine:
U.S. direct assistance to the PA for FY2011, which amounted to $200 million, is already out the door. Congress can’t do anything to block funding that has already been spent, although some members of Congress are threatening to cut off this funding in 2012 to punish the Palestinian Authority for going to the UN.
If this aid continues to be frozen, it will certainly harm Palestinians on the ground, as the freeze targets “food aid, health care, and support for efforts to build a functioning state.” But the Congressional aid freeze “leaves security aid intact,” as Bradley Burston pointed out in Ha’aretz. This is the most important fact about the reported aid freeze.
Although Friedman also reports that Congress is currently “blocking $150 million in funding for security assistance to the PA,” it’s likely that funding will be restored. Security aid to the PA is the biggest reason why the West Bank has not flared up in revolt against the occupation yet. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows that, which is why he has been lobbying Congress to keep that aid flowing.
By withholding money from PA, the US, presumably with the full knowledge of their Israeli partners, is playing with fire. A severely bankrupt PA unable to pay 100,000 employees could spark outright rebellion against the Palestinian leadership. Growing Palestinian discontent with the PA leadership, easily detected on the streets of Ramallah, could transform into West Bank civil disobedience directed at the PA and, ultimately, the Israeli occupation. But this is not going to happen…
The American move to withhold a small portion of aid shows that no matter the Palestinian efforts to prepare for statehood they are still solely dependent on international aid and the good grace of the Israeli occupation. It is in Israel’s interest to maintain a strong PA which will control growing discontent among Palestinians and stop efforts for widespread civil disobedience. When and if, Israel decides that the PA is no longer operating according to its interests, the money will stop coming.
Congressional objections to continued funding to the PA may translate into actions that harm the Palestinian people. But what it won’t do is damage Israeli-PA cooperation on security–cooperation that ensures the PA’s survival and the continuity of an cost-free occupation. The recently reported aid-freeze does not damage the existing status quo.