Search Penny Hill Press

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians

Jim Zanotti
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Since the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has committed over $4 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, who are among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid. Successive Administrations have requested aid for the Palestinians to support at least three major U.S. policy priorities of interest to Congress:

  • Combating, neutralizing, and preventing terrorism against Israel from the Islamist group Hamas and other militant organizations.
  • Creating a virtuous cycle of stability and prosperity in the West Bank that inclines Palestinians toward peaceful coexistence with Israel and prepares them for self-governance.
  • Meeting humanitarian needs and preventing further destabilization, particularly in the Gaza Strip.
Since June 2007, these U.S. policy priorities have crystallized around the factional and geographical split between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In April 2012, the Obama Administration obligated all remaining FY2011 bilateral assistance for the Palestinians. Obligation had been delayed for several months due to informal congressional holds by some U.S. lawmakers. The holds were largely a response to Palestinian pursuit in late 2011 of United Nations-related initiatives aimed at increasing international recognition of Palestinian statehood outside of negotiations with Israel. A hold remained on a portion of the FY2011 assistance when the Administration obligated it. Additionally, various agreements since May 2011 between Fatah and Hamas leaders regarding a possible consensus PA government have raised concerns among some Members of Congress, even though under most scenarios, such a government would be unlikely to include Hamas ministers unless Hamas performs well in future elections. Nevertheless, conditions might be attached to U.S. budgetary assistance to a PA government whose composition could be subject to Hamas’s approval. Prospects for implementation of the Fatah-Hamas agreements remain unclear.

From FY2008 to the present, annual U.S. bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza Strip has averaged nearly $600 million, including annual averages of approximately $200 million in direct budgetary assistance and $100 million in non-lethal security assistance for the PA in the West Bank. Additionally, the United States is the largest single-state donor to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). However, whether UNRWA’s role productively addresses the refugee issue in the context of efforts to mitigate or resolve the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a polarizing question, particularly with respect to UNRWA’s presence in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Because of congressional concerns that, among other things, funds might be diverted to Palestinian terrorist groups, U.S. aid is subject to a host of vetting and oversight requirements and legislative restrictions. U.S. assistance to the Palestinians is given alongside assistance from other international donors, and U.S. policymakers routinely call for greater or more timely assistance from Arab governments in line with pledges those governments make. 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: June 25, 2012
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: RS22967
Price: $29.95

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.

To Order:

RS22967.pdf  to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports