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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on U.S. Aid to Palestinians

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Last Updated: October 5, 2011

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1. What is the US Campaign's position on U.S. efforts to sanction Palestinians for seeking United Nations (UN) membership?

The US Campaign categorically opposes any and all efforts by the United States to sanction Palestinians for seeking UN membership. It is morally wrong and politically self-defeating for the United States to impose sanctions on a people for attempting to achieve their freedom and self-determination.

For an overview of the US Campaign's position on Palestine's bid for UN membership, please read our FAQ on this topic.

2. What is the US Campaign's position on U.S. aid to Palestinians?

The US Campaign opposes any effort to restrict, condition, or end U.S. aid to Palestinians as a sanction for seeking UN membership. At the same time, the US Campaign is also concerned with the reasons for, design and effects of U.S. assistance to Palestinians.

While some U.S. aid undoubtedly goes to support the legitimate humanitarian needs (food, education, health care, etc.) of the Palestinian population, Palestinians would not need this aid in the first place if it were not for U.S. support of Israel's illegal military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and its apartheid policies toward Palestinians. It is Israel's control of Palestinian land and natural resources, borders, trade, monetary policy (currency), tax revenues and movement that together prevent the development of a viable independent economy and create aid dependence

As we detail in this FAQ, U.S. aid for Palestinian refugees is necessary because the United States enables Israel's efforts to deny Palestinian refugees their right of return. The United States invests hundreds of millions of dollars in security and "good governance" programs for the Palestinian Authority (PA), yet backs Israel's efforts to deny the Palestinians the independence and sovereignty necessary to build a functional state and economy. U.S. aid for infrastructure projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip often actually funds the rebuilding of earlier infrastructure deliberately and illegally destroyed by Israel with U.S. weapons. The aid also entrenches Israel's illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, since some of it is diverted from assisting Palestinians to building checkpoints and apartheid Palestinian roads that buttress Israel's settlement infrastructure. In Gaza this same aid is used to create inefficient parallel service structures that compete with the services provided by the de facto authority and help sustain Palestinian internal divisions. Finally, a lot of U.S. assistance to the Palestinians is funneled into training PA security services, which have been accused of violating Palestinian human rights. These institutions were created by the Oslo Accords (the "peace process") for the purpose of acting as a security subcontractor for Israel's occupation.

3. What type of sanctions is the United States considering imposing on Palestinians for seeking UN membership?

Actually, Congress has already sanctioned Palestinians by placing "holds" on $192 million in economic assistance and $150 million in security assistance that was already approved in the 2011 budget. Since August 18, three Members of Congress—Sen. Richard Lugar, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Rep. Kay Granger—have reportedly delayed the authorization to spend these already allocated funds. The Obama Administration is currently lobbying Congress to lift these holds so that the appropriated money can be spent as planned.

There are several bills and resolutions introduced in Congress that would further sanction or otherwise punish Palestinians for seeking UN membership. Both the House and Senate versions of the FY2012 State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill could threaten all bilateral economic aid if enacted. The House version could also cut off U.S. funding of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on which millions of Palestinian refugees depend.

Several bills introduced in Congress would also cut U.S. funding to UN agencies that upgrade Palestine's status. There have even been resolutions introduced to encourage Israel to illegally annex the West Bank as punishment for Palestinians seeking UN membership, and to cut off U.S. military aid to any country that votes in favor of upgrading Palestine's status at the UN!

For additional details on these sanctions threats,
click here.

4.  So what exactly does U.S. aid to Palestinians fund?

U.S. aid to Palestinians falls into four categories (see graphs below):

1. Economic Support Fund (ESF). From FY2005-2012, this has been the largest component of U.S. aid to Palestinians, totaling $2.8 billion. It includes both direct budgetary assistance to the PA and non-governmental organization (NGO) projects funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). From FY2005-2012, this has been the second largest component of U.S. aid, totaling $1.5 billion. UNRWA provides social services to Palestinian refugees.

International Narcotics Control & Law Enforcement (INCLE). From FY2005-2012, this has been third largest component of U.S. aid, totaling $572 million. INCLE funds nonlethal security assistance to the PA, including both training and equipment.

World Food Program (WFP). From FY2005-2012, the United States has provided $50.6 million in emergency food aid to Palestinians via the WFP. This is the smallest component of U.S. aid to Palestinians.

In the questions below, we provide additional details about these programs and their effects.

For additional details about what U.S. aid to Palestinians funds, please see our
slide show and interactive database.

5. What kind of support does the United States provide to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees?

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provides assistance, protection and advocacy for about five million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. For additional details, please see unrwa.org.

Since 1950 UNRWA h
as supplied refugees with basic services such as food and housing, and today the agency runs 700 schools and 137 health clinics in the countries and territories in which Palestinian refugees live. Most of the 27,000 UNRWA staff members are themselves Palestinian refugees. UNRWA receives 98 percent of its funding from voluntary contributions by UN member states. The United States was the largest donor in 2010 with a total contribution of around $240 million, which covered about 25 percent of UNRWA's budget.

UNRWA was established as a temporary agency to respond to the desperate situation of Palestinians dispossessed in the war of 1947-48. The UN General Assembly has repeatedly renewed its mandate pending the just resolution of the question of Palestine refugees. As the largest donor to UNRWA, money from the United States is essential to ensure refugees receive the basic services they need.

At the same time, U.S. diplomatic and military support for Israel has ensured the continued denial of Palestinian human rights, including the refugees' right of return, which is enshrined in international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in UN General Assembly Resolution 194. The United States has an obligation to support the work of UNRWA, but it also has an obligation to end its support of Israeli violations of Palestinian rights that block the realization of justice for the refugees.

6. Isn't it a good thing for the United States to fund things like rule of law, democracy promotion, anti-corruption efforts, etc. to strengthen the Palestinian Authority?

Of course Palestinians have the right to governmental institutions that reflect their desire for freedom and self-determination. However, above all else, it is Israel's illegal military occupation and apartheid policies towards Palestinians which deny them their right to democracy and good governance. The Palestinian Authority has full civil and security control over only 18 percent of the West Bank and civil control over an additional 21 percent.

But even these areas are made up of dozens of disconnected enclaves which are divided by Israel's illegal settlements, the Apartheid Wall, and more than 500 checkpoints and roadblocks. Efforts at improving Palestinian
institutions thus have little impact because the PA lacks any sovereignty; it is Israel, as the occupying power, which exercises real control. As the PA itself noted in a recent report on Children Rights, "the Israeli occupation prevents the PNA from controlling the normal tools of development generally available to a state...It will not be until a Palestinian State is able to fully govern itself independent of Israeli control that true economic growth, along with social, political, and civil rights will be realized."

The focus on improving the Palestinian Authority obscures the fact that Israel's occupation is the main obstacle to Palestinian "good governance," and that the PA has only administrative authority. The millions of dollars in aid the United States pumps into enhancing the PA's institutions cannot be a substitute for the United States ending its support of Israeli occupation and apartheid so that Palestinians can develop their own sovereign political institutions.

7. Doesn't U.S. aid promote Palestinian economic development through the building of health care centers, transportation infrastructure, etc.?

The Palestinian Authority is dependent on foreign aid to provide the Palestinian population with basic services including health care, education, and sanitation services. This aid dependence is a product of Israel's continued occupation. As long as Israel's occupation continues, a certain level of international assistance will be necessary to ensure that people are able to live in dignity. However, it must be recognized that this aid is only needed because of Israel's continued illegal occupation and that in the absence of serious efforts on the part of donors to end the occupation and sanction Israel this aid serves to sustain occupation and subsidize Israeli human rights violations.

Within this context, U.S. efforts to provide Palestinians with economic development assistance might be a good thing if an independent Palestinian government requested such assistance, but not when it is done in a context that ends up normalizing and entrenching Israel's occupation of Palestinian land. The United States chooses to provide economic development assistance to mitigate some of the damaging effects of Israel's occupation, instead of pressuring Israel to end its illegal military occupation.

Perversely, U.S. economic development assistance projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are often destroyed by Israel with U.S. weapons also paid for at U.S. taxpayer expense, and sometimes then rebuilt with U.S. taxpayer money as well. For example, since 2000, Israel has repeatedly bombarded public infrastructure and PA buildings in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, infrastructure which was subsidized by U.S. and international aid. During Operation Cast Lead in Gaza
, Israeli targets included the Palestinian parliament, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Labor, Housing and Construction, Finance and Justice, the Gaza Central Prison and virtually all police stations. Israel damaged or destroyed more than 11,000 Gazan homes, 1,500 of which were UNRWA-built houses. And almost 700 factories and business were also hit, including a few belonging to the Abu ‘Ida Cement and Construction Company which had carried out the building work for Gaza's power station, a U.S.-Palestinian joint venture. Total property damage to civilian infrastructure was estimated to be $1.6-$1.9 billion.

Israel's illegal military occupation is designed to "de-develop" the Palestinian economy and continue its dependence on Israel's economy. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Palestinian trade is hampered by checkpoints, the Apartheid Wall and general restrictions imposed by Israel on the movement of people and goods. In the Gaza Strip, more than 1.5 million Palestinians are subjected to collective punishment through Israel's illegal land, sea, and air blockade. The PA's ability to pay salaries to public servants hinges on Israel transferring customs revenue it collects on the Palestinians' behalf, which is necessary since Israel controls all entry and exit of goods to the Palestinian territories. Israeli security demands dictate major conditions, limitations and restrictions on aid and hampers independent Palestinian decision-making on how to pursue development. These demands also hinder the delivery of aid and make the work of aid agencies much less effective.

A new report on the detrimental effects of Israeli policies on the Palestinian economy documents how the "occupation enterprise" not only deprived Palestinians of almost $6.9 billion in 2010 but also allows Israel and commercial firms to profit from Palestinian resources and tourist potential. One example is Pal Karm Company for Cosmetics, which is located in Nablus and sells cosmetics and skin care products in the local market and exports to Israel. Glycerin is an essential raw material for the company, but Israel has banned the entry of glycerin into the West Bank since 2007. Since the Israeli health authorities require glycerin to be part of such products, the company has been unable to sell its products in Israel and it estimates its losses to be 30 percent of its sales. Another example is the restriction on Palestinian access to the Dead Sea, which means a loss in income from the extraction of minerals and salts from which Israel benefits economically. The annual revenues of Ahava, an Israeli settlement corporation whose beauty products are made from stolen Dead Sea minerals, are estimated to be $150 million. Without the occupation, the report concludes, the Palestinian economy would be almost twice as large and would be able to reduce its dependence on foreign aid.

Aid also goes to further entrench Israel's occupation and system of apartheid. For example, a report by the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ) in 2010 reveals that 32 percent of the PA roads funded and built by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reflect Israeli priorities included in a proposal Israel presented to donors in 2004. Israel wanted donors to fund some 500 kilometers of alternative roads to serve the Palestinians whom it was blocking from the main settler road network it has illegally constructed. The donors rejected the proposal at that time, but it now turns out that PA-USAID efforts have effectively implemented 22 percent of Israel's plan. In essence, the United States is funding the development of an apartheid transportation network in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Instead of funding separate roads for Palestinians who are denied access to Israeli settler roads, the United States should stop supporting Israel's apartheid policies that make such separate construction necessary.

To cite another egregious example, in 2005 the United States took $50 million earmarked for Palestinian economic development aid and spent it on Israel's behalf to construct high-tech checkpoints and transit terminals into Israel's Apartheid Wall. The United States did so under the guise of helping to ease the movement of Palestinian people and goods in and out of Israel. In reality, these new checkpoints and terminals further entrench Israel's illegal restrictions on Palestinians' right to freedom of movement. This project to "improve" the Apartheid Wall also violated the 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice that prohibits any states from helping to maintain the situation created by Israel's construction of the wall.

While U.S. aid to Palestinians does go towards building schools, creating jobs through infrastructure projects and providing drinking water, the United States has also provided Israel with billions of dollars worth of weapons which are used to destroy these same schools, roads and wells. U.S. support for Israeli occupation also facilitates illegal settlement activity which further disrupts Palestinian development through land expropriation and limiting access to water resources.

8. Doesn't U.S. aid to the P.A. facilitate governmental services and security in the West Bank?

U.S. aid allows Israel to enjoy what author Sahar Taghdisi-Rad terms a "deluxe occupation" in which Israel reaps the benefits of occupation without assuming any of its costs. The United States, along with Europe, is in effect subsidizing the costs of Israeli occupation by giving budgetary support to the PA to meet its payroll, thus attempting to absolve Israel of its Fourth Geneva Convention obligations to provide for the needs of people under its occupation. Because of U.S. and international aid, Israel is able to maximize its control over the land while minimizing its responsibility towards the people.

The supposed improvement in West Bank security has come at the cost of repression by U.S.-trained PA forces, often supported by U.S. diplomatic efforts. Since 2005 the office of the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC), under the leadership of General Keith Dayton, has trained and equipped two Presidential Guard battalions, which provide security for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and seven battalions of the Palestinian National Security Forces. The USSC also finances non-lethal equipment for the forces, including riot shields, batons, handcuffs, computers and support vehicles. These 8,000 "Dayton forces" have been accused of detention, arbitrary arrest and torture and have coordinated with the Israeli military, the United States and the European Union to suppress resistance to Israel's occupation, including, crucially, acts of nonviolence. U.S. aid for these security services has resulted in further violations of Palestinian human rights and the build up of a police state.

9. If you're so critical of U.S. aid to Palestinians, why do you oppose the United States cutting off aid?

The US Campaign opposes on principle any effort to sanction people for seeking their long-denied human and national rights regardless of the actual impact of this aid. Congress is misplaced in sanctioning Palestinians for seeking their freedom-what they should be doing is sanctioning Israel for denying it. If the United States was not enabling Israel's occupation and apartheid systems, this level of aid to Palestinians would not be necessary.

Instead, the United States should sanction Israel for misusing U.S. weapons in violation of the Arms Export Control Act and Foreign Assistance Act to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians and to entrench its illegal military occupation of Palestinian territories, which prevents Palestinian freedom and self-determination.

For additional details about and to get involved with our campaign to end U.S. military aid, please see our website

For additional details about the types of weapons the United States provides to Israel and their devastating impact on Palestinians, please see our website

For additional details about how you can organize locally to get your city council to pass a resolution to end military aid to Israel and redirect that money to unmet community needs, please see our website