35 US Senators urge Trump to restore Palestinian aid
14 Democrats and 51 Republicans, mostly Senators who have received huge campaign donations from Israel’s lobby AIPAC, refused to sign the letter including those who have claimed to be advocates for “peaceful negotiations with Israel.” The letter was immediately applauded by Churches for Middle East Peace
Today U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Chris Coons (D-Del.) led a letter of 34 Democratic Senators to President Trump to express strong opposition to his decision to cut more than $500 million in aid to the Palestinian people – funding that was passed into law to provide clean water, food, education, and critical medical services to families in the West Bank and Gaza.
“We are deeply concerned that your strategy of attempting to force the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table by withholding humanitarian assistance from women and children is misguided and destined to backfire. Your proposed cuts would undermine those who seek a peaceful resolution and strengthen the hands of Hamas and other extremists in the Gaza Strip, as the humanitarian crisis there worsens,” the Senators wrote.
They continued, “For these reasons, we strongly believe it is in the national security interest of the United States, our ally Israel, the Palestinian people, and our other partners and allies in the region to expeditiously obligate the FY17 Economic Support Fund assistance originally planned for the West Bank and Gaza and to sustain U.S. contributions to UNRWA. We urge you to reverse your decision and look forward to your prompt response.”
Working with United States Agency for International Development’s implementing partners, Senator Van Hollen’s office has prepared a snapshot of programs and partnerships impacted by these cuts in funding that can be found below:
In addition to Senators Van Hollen, Feinstein, and Coons, the letter was signed by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patricia Murray (D-Wash.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Gary Peters (D-Mich.).
The full text of the letter is available here.
Dear President Trump:
We write in strong opposition to your decision to cut some $200 million in Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) Economic Support Fund assistance originally planned for the West Bank and Gaza and to end U.S. contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), including more than $300 million in assistance this fiscal year. Eliminating funds for programs that provide clean water, food, education, and medical services for Palestinians will exacerbate poverty, fuel extremism, further reduce the chance of a future peace agreement and threaten Israel’s security. Both the FY17 and FY18 funds were approved by the Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support—a recognition among Republicans and Democrats alike that these programs are in the U.S. national interest. We urge you to reverse course and obligate these funds as Congress originally intended.
By law, U.S. foreign assistance cannot be directed to the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. Instead, Congress has appropriated funds to provide assistance directly to the Palestinian people, including millions of children in the Palestinian territories. The cuts you have proposed would make a desperate situation even worse.
Specifically, according to the organizations implementing USAID-funded programs in the West Bank and Gaza, these cuts will prevent:
- nearly 140,000 individuals from receiving emergency food aid;
- 3,000 children and their caregivers from receiving healthcare for anemia and malnutrition;
- up to 71,000 individuals from receiving access to clean water;
- 800 children from receiving rehabilitation services for cerebral palsy; and,
- 16,000 women from receiving clinical breast cancer treatment.
In addition, your decision to end U.S. contributions to UNRWA puts at risk:
- civilian, secular education for 525,000 kids, 50 percent of which are girls, in more than 700 schools;
- food assistance to one million residents in Gaza, half of its population; and,
- public health in the refugee population, where UNRWA has long achieved a 100 percent vaccination rate.
We are deeply concerned that your strategy of attempting to force the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table by withholding humanitarian assistance from women and children is misguided and destined to backfire. Your proposed cuts would undermine those who seek a peaceful resolution and strengthen the hands of Hamas and other extremists in the Gaza Strip, as the humanitarian crisis there worsens.
For these reasons, we strongly believe it is in the national security interest of the United States, our ally Israel, the Palestinian people, and our other partners and allies in the region to expeditiously obligate the FY17 Economic Support Fund assistance originally planned for the West Bank and Gaza and to sustain U.S. contributions to UNRWA. We urge you to reverse your decision and look forward to your prompt response.
Below is the statement from Churches for Middle East Peace on the letter and on funding for the Palstinians and how funding can encourage peace:
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) Applauds Senate Letter in Support of U.S. Assistance to Palestinians and UNRWA
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) applauds Sens. Chris Van Hollen (MD), Dianne Feinstein (CA), and Chris Coons (DE) for their letter calling the Trump Administration to reverse its decision to cut $200 million in USAID funded programs in the West Bank and Gaza and a complete end to U.S. funds for UNRWA. Signed by 34 Democratic senators, the letter makes clear the devastating impact these funding cuts will have on the most vulnerable Palestinians, including those who rely on the congressionally appropriated funds to receive emergency food assistance, medical services, education and access to clean water. CMEP believes the withholding of such funding will only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and lead to further destabilization in the West Bank and the region as a whole.
Through USAID funded projects, including those administered by CMEP member group Catholic Relief Services (CRS), hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are afforded job training opportunities, receive life-saving medical treatment for cancer and other diseases, and emergency food. By cutting funds to UNRWA, the U.S. is jeopardizing the education of over 500,000 Palestinian refugee children, fifty percent of whom are girls. As the letter states, the decision by the Administration to withhold aid as a mechanism through which to get Palestinians back to the “negotiating table” is misguided and will only further threaten regional stability. CMEP strongly believes humanitarian and economic assistance should be provided solely based on need and never used as a political bargaining chip.
“Humanitarian funding and the provision of basic services for livelihoods should never be used for political ends,” says CMEP’s executive director Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon. “The exploitation of the poor and the vulnerable in Palestine for political purposes is reprehensible. We are calling for all U.S. funding for humanitarian assistance and economic provisions to be restored.”
CMEP calls upon all members of Congress–Republicans and Democrats alike–to put further pressure on the administration to reverse this misguided decision. Allocating all congressionally appropriated funds to Palestinians and continuing to fund UNRWA is the first step in ensuring the U.S. can play a productive role in working for a just and sustainable end to the conflict in Israel-Palestine.