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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians

Jim Zanotti
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs

Since the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993 and the establishment of limited Palestinian selfrule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1994, the U.S. government has committed over $3.5 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians. Since the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004, U.S. assistance to the Palestinians has been averaging about $400 million a year. During the 1990s, U.S. foreign aid to the Palestinians averaged approximately $75 million per year. Despite more robust levels of assistance this decade, Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Hamas's heightened role in Palestinian politics have made it more difficult to implement effective and lasting aid projects that serve U.S. interests. 

U.S. aid to the Palestinians has fluctuated considerably over the past five years, largely due to Hamas's changing role within the Palestinian Authority (PA). After Hamas led the PA government for over a year, its forcible takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 led to the creation of a non- Hamas government in the West Bank—resulting in different models of governance for the two Palestinian territories. Since then, the United States has dramatically boosted aid levels to bolster the PA in the West Bank and President Mahmoud Abbas vis-à-vis Hamas. The United States has appropriated or reprogrammed nearly $2 billion since 2007 in support of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's security, governance, development, and reform programs, including $650 million for direct budgetary assistance to the PA and nearly $400 million (toward training, non-lethal equipment, facilities, strategic planning, and administration) for strengthening and reforming PA security forces and criminal justice systems in the West Bank. The remainder is for programs administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by nongovernmental organizations in humanitarian assistance, economic development, democratic reform, improving water access and other infrastructure, health care, education, and vocational training. In December 2009, Congress approved $500 million in total FY2010 assistance pursuant to P.L. 111-117, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010. 

In addition to its bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, the United States is the largest singlestate donor to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides food, shelter, medical care, and education for many of the original refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and their descendants—now comprising approximately 4.8 million Palestinians in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. Since UNRWA's inception in 1950, the United States has provided the agency with nearly $4 billion in contributions. U.S. contributions to UNRWA have steadily increased over the past decade, with nearly $228 million thus far for FY2010. Whether UNRWA's role is beneficial overall, however, is a polarizing question, particularly with respect to UNRWA's presence in Hamas-controlled Gaza. 

Because of congressional concerns that, among other things, U.S. funds might be diverted to Palestinian terrorist groups, much of this aid is subject to a host of vetting and oversight requirements and legislative restrictions. Experts advise that PA stability appears to hinge on improved security, economic development, Israeli cooperation, and the continuation of high levels of foreign assistance. The possibility of a consensus or unity government to address the problem of divided rule among Palestinians could lead to a full or partial U.S. aid cutoff if Hamas is included in the government and does not change its stance toward Israel. Even if the immediate objectives of U.S. assistance programs for the Palestinians are met, lack of progress toward a politically legitimate and peaceful two-state solution could undermine the utility of U.S. aid in helping the Palestinians become more cohesive, stable, and self-reliant over the long term.

Date of Report: August 12, 2010
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RS22967
Price: $29.95

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