US funding for Palestinians ends, raising security fears

US was funding Palestinian security at $60M a year

By ANDREW CAREY, CNN
Abid Katib/Getty Images

(CNN) - The relationship between Israelis and Palestinians is characterized by considerable mistrust and disinterest.

But one thing officials from both sides agree: co-ordination between Israeli and Palestinian security forces in the West Bank is of vital importance, and a rare success story.

For years now, both sides have recognized a mutual interest in co-operation to prevent terror attacks.

Neither side wants extremists to destabilize the region by a return to the violence witnessed at the beginning of this century, when suicide bombing campaigns by Palestinians and violent military incursions by Israelis killed thousands.

The United States has also been fully signed on to that need for co-operation, which is why it has been funding Palestinian security to the tune of $60 million a year.

The showpiece of that largesse is a new training facility in the city of Jericho, where U.S. military personnel also provide training, and one of the locations visited by CNN during a year of exclusive access to the Palestinian Security Services.

From Friday February 1 though, that funding will end; not because the United States has withdrawn it, but rather because the Palestinians have said they no longer want to receive it.

Their concern lies in the passage of a new US anti-terror law, called the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA), which comes into effect Friday, and which could make the Palestinian Authority liable for huge claims by American victims of Palestinian terror attacks.

The Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Rami Hamdallah, informed the US in an official letter sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the day after Christmas. "The Government of Palestine takes seriously its commitment to respond to all claims of jurisdiction over it in legal proceedings in the U.S. Judicial Branch," Hamdallah wrote.

"The U.S. courts, in turn, have consistently held that 'general jurisdiction' of the type discussed in the ATCA cannot be exercised over the Palestinian National Authority and its agencies. Unfortunately, the ATCA has sought to convert these constitutional issues into political ones."

Funding alternatives

The only way to avoid possible liability under the new legislation is to decline receipt of any US aid funding.

Israeli newspaper reports have suggested that Israel has requested the US find a different way to keep the funding in place.

Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, refused to comment on those suggestions when he spoke to Jerusalem's Foreign Press Association on Thursday, although he did acknowledge the importance of continued security co-operation.

The recent US government shutdown has also had an adverse effect on efforts to find a work-around.

For its part, the State Department says it is continuing to "work through" the potential impact of the ATCA, adding, "in consultation with partners we have taken steps to wind down certain projects and programs in the West Bank and Gaza." The statement did not go into further detail.

The crunch over funding for security coincides with the end of all USAID projects in the Palestinian territories.

Those funding cuts were announced by the White House over the course of 2018, and reflect a change of policy under the Trump administration to tighten the financial screws on the Palestinians ahead of the presentation of the administration's much-heralded peace plan.

Various USAID projects will be left half-finished, including a water treatment scheme in Jericho aimed at benefiting local farmers, as CNN discovered.

US President Donald Trump's Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt had attended the project's launch in October 2017.

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