Why Trump is refusing to resume aid to Palestinian security
Barak Ravid, a political correspondent for Israel’s Channel 13, revealed Nov. 6 that US President Donald Trump turned down in June Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand to transfer funds to the Palestinian security services. Trump’s decision came despite Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer asking the US State Department to transfer the sum of $12 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which had neither been stopped nor transferred amid its aid cuts, by communicating this request to the White House. The latter is authorized to ratify financial transfers, Ravid said.
Ravid cited prominent US officials whom he did not name saying that they gave Trump Netanyahu’s message, which indicated that the financial aid to the Palestinian security aims at bolstering Israeli-Palestinian security coordination and halting any armed Palestinian attacks on Israel. Trump responded, “Halting financial aid to Palestinians will remain on hold as long as they do not resume negotiations with Israel. If money transfer is that important for Netanyahu, let him pay from his own pockets.”
The US stance reflects deteriorating relations with the PA. In January, this deterioration reached its peak, when the US administration halted all aid to the PA, and in February stopped support for security institutions, to pressure the PA into accepting the "deal of the century" as a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The budget of the Palestinian security institution comes from different parties, whether from the general budget of the PA or US support. The exact amount is unknown. But since the PA is undergoing a tough financial crisis, expenditure for security institutions have suffered.
A Palestinian security official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The US financial aid for Palestinian security has been suspended since February 2019. Even our soldiers and officers have been financially affected and have received half their salaries for the past months. In some instances, security competence and professional performance have been compromised, thus negatively affecting the security situation in the West Bank. Training sessions for security forces have been reduced, as well as field patrols in Palestinian cities due to lack of budget. Palestinians and Israelis are worried, but Americans seem to be reassured.”
In January, the PA sent a message to the US Department of State, asking it to end funding for Palestinian security to avoid facing lawsuits in US courts, as per the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA) that Congress passed and Trump signed in October 2018. Under the ATCA, any party that receives US funding is subject to anti-terrorism laws.
US aid to Palestinian security reached $60 million per year since the PA establishment in 1994.
Osama Abu Irshaid, Palestinian researcher at the Doha Institute, told Al-Monitor, “The US refusal is linked to Trump’s attempt to force the PA into accepting his solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the deal of the century without preconditions. He believes the PA’s refusal of the US steps is personal disrespect, as the matter is delicate in his mind. But this does not necessarily mean the US will [definitely] turn the page on the PA.”
The Channel 13 report about Trump’s refusal to transfer the remaining aid coincide with two key events. First, the US State Department published Nov. 1 its Country Reports on Terrorism 2018, praising the performance of Palestinian security institutions in countering terrorism in the West Bank and restricting the ability of Hamas and other Palestinian organizations to attack Israel by arresting their members.
The second event was the visit of Palestinian Chief of General Intelligence Majid Faraj to Washington between Oct. 26 and Nov. 1, during which he met with CIA Deputy Director Vaughn Bishop and other officials and discussed security coordination and ways to continue training and rehabilitating Palestinian security institutions.
Abdullah Abdullah, a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council and head of the political committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told Al-Monitor, “Trump’s refusal indicates that he is listening to the advice of those close to him who are committed to the Israeli rightist stance against the PA. But we will continue our security performance to maintain security in the West Bank.”
He added, “Despite the halted US financial aid to the Palestinian security since February, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas prioritizes supporting these institutions and offering them money. And despite the PA’s financial crisis, he knows that its persistence depends on its ability to maintain security in the West Bank, which would ultimately benefit US-Israeli security interests.”
Abbas is granting additional financial budget at the expense of ministries and other government institutions.
He noted, “Israel’s demand for Trump to transfer the needed money to Palestinian security falls within the framework of Israel’s quest for its security interests in the West Bank. But we will not compromise our political stances to restore US financial support.”
Hani al-Masri, head of the Palestinian Center for Strategic Studies and Research - Masarat, told Al-Monitor, “The US refusal to resume financial support for Palestinian security is not surprising. Trump is aggressive in dealing with the Palestinians, regardless of US and Israeli interests. It is no surprise that Israel asked Washington to resume support for Palestinian security because such resumption is in Israel’s interest. Israel does not want the security situation in the West Bank to collapse and wants to keep it under control. The PA trusts the role of Congress, the CIA and Pentagon in pressuring Trump to take back his decision that will not hold.”