It has emerged that in the last hours of his administration and distinctly under the radar, President Obama quietly released to the Palestinian Authority some $221 million on which members of Congress had put a hold since 2015. Congress had initially allocated the money ostensibly to support “political and security reforms as well as help prepare for good governance and the rule of law in a future Palestinian state.”
The congressional hold was the result of displeasure over Palestinian attempts at seeking membership in international organizations. Such holds on already allocated funds are not legally binding on a president but they are customarily respected. In this case, it would appear that Mr. Obama thought nobody was looking or that there was no way members of Congress could retaliate against his violation of the hold.
It is ironic that until the recent decision by Mr. Obama to allow the Security Council to pass a resolution condemning Israeli settlements over the ”green line,” he had held firm to the notion that direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were the only way to resolve the differences between the two sides.
To be sure, he breached that principle somewhat when in 2011 he declared that the pre-1967 armistice lines should be the starting point for negotiations. But the $221 million release was a more substantial breach since it negated a congressional policy directed against the PA’s resort to an international forum outside the negotiating process.
In any event, the last word on this may not yet have been heard. There are ongoing U.S. grants to the Palestinians in terms of general support to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. The Jewish Press and others have been suggesting that these sums should be sharply curtailed or eliminated since general PA funds are used to reward the families of Palestinian terrorists either killed or imprisoned for their crimes. And several members of Congress are giving serious thought to this notion.
But what President Trump can do with relative ease – even if ending all funding would have to occur in stages since the collapse of the PA would carry special security consequences – is to hold back on the release of the full regular funding until the $221 million is accounted for.
It is noteworthy that despite the fact that the recent presidential election was a referendum of sorts on the policies of President Obama, he was fully prepared to do whatever he thinks he can get way with, without a care about what anyone else thinks. What a statesman!