Why cutting US aid will help Palestinians – and peace
As of 1 February, USAID has officially ceased operations in the occupied Palestinian territories. This has been tied to the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA) passed in Congress in October. The law stipulates that foreign governments that accept aid from the United States government can face prosecution in US courts for damages resulting from terrorism.
The move led the Palestinian Authority (PA) to declare its refusal to receive additional US aid, and therefore put an end to the USAID presence in the occupied territories, at least for now.
ATCA, which does not only concern aid to Palestinians, was just the latest in a series of punitive measures taken by the US government against the Palestinians. The most damaging of these were a series of harmful cuts in 2018 that took away hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for essential services and humanitarian needs for Palestinians, such as for healthcare and support for refugees.
By contrast, the final shuttering of USAID puts an end to US funding for programmes that are themselves harmful to the Palestinians, like the $60m for PA security forces.
That funding was predicated on PA forces coordinating security control over Palestinians with Israel. It is a key investment the US has made into the PA - particularly since the Second Intifada ended in 2005 - training and funding PA security forces.
Those forces are under increasing scrutiny for human rights abuses, such as routinely arresting and torturing peaceful critics. Meanwhile, PA forces are not allowed to respond to incidents of violence against Palestinians by Israeli settlers, even though these are the greatest threat to the rule of law and security for West Bank Palestinians.
So, that final $60m in funding was reinforcing Israeli rule, while making Palestinian lives more insecure, and reinforcing a PA slide away from democracy into autocracy.
When the Oslo Accord was signed in 1993, there was widespread optimism that Israelis and Palestinians would find peace together. To support the process, international donors – under US leadership – pledged substantial funding for Palestinian development aid projects to build the institutions of a Palestinian state.
This was done on an assumption that aid could, when combined with those institutions, catalyse Palestinian economic growth and provide Palestinians with a "peace dividend", encouraging them to build peace with Israel.