Washington D.C., Apr 17, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Catholic Relief Services was among 18 organizations that have welcomed the introduction of a Senate Resolution calling on the Trump administration to disburse humanitarian aid already provided by Congress for residents of the West Bank and Gaza.
“U.S. assistance to the region has been withheld for over 15 months. The administration froze all bilateral foreign assistance benefiting Palestinians, pending an administrative review of these programs,” CRS said April 17.
It noted that the review is ongoing, with “no clear criteria or timeline.”
“Meanwhile, more than half the people in Gaza now live in poverty, and hopelessness and instability increase every day.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced Senate Resolution 171 April 16. The Senate would resolve that the executive branch should expend, within fiscal year 2019, the $257.5m that Congress appropriated in 2018 for bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza.
The funds would go to economic support – focused on food, essential health services, and other humanitarian goods and services; narcotics control and law enforcement; and non-proliferation, anti-terrorism, and demining programs.
The resolution notes that the State Department also failed to expend the $302.8m appropriated by Congress in 2017 for assistance to Palestine.
CRS said the resolution addresses the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, passed in 2018, which it said “has made it more difficult to provide U.S. funding to alleviate suffering in the region.
“While Congress never intended the law to affect humanitarian assistance delivered by non-government organizations, interpretations of the ATCA has led to the end of all U.S. government-funded humanitarian work in the West Bank and Gaza, including programs that help people find work, feed their families and access health care,” the organization stated.
The text of the resolution said that the Palestinian Authority's interpretation of ATCA led it “to reject all forms of United States assistance, meaning that funding for organizations implementing humanitarian aid programs that provide critical services … cannot be carried out.”
The resolution calls for legislation clarifying that programs and activities funded though the Economic Support Fund and consistent with the Taylor Force Act “may not be used as a basis to assert jurisdiction over the Palestinian Authority” under ATCA.
ATCA allows American victims of terrorist attacks to sue entities that receive foreign aid from the the US; American courts would have jurisdiction to seize the assets of these entities. The Palestinian Authority chose to forgo US assistance rather than open itself to such suits.
According to the Washington Post, ATCA's passage was promoted by Shurat HaDin, an Israeli oganization that files legal actions on behalf of terror victims and trains attorneys “to fight for the rights of the worldwide jewish community and Israel,” according to its website.
CRS said that ATCA “has forced the closing of an emergency food assistance program” it ran in Palestine, “which had already been scaled back due to the ongoing administrative review.”
“We hope a solution is reached swiftly and funding is restored—the vulnerable people we serve can’t wait any longer.”
CRS was one of 18 non-governmental organizations that signed a statement of support for S. Res. 171. It said that “the humanitarian situation facing Palestinians is dire, especially in Gaza,” citing a poverty rate of more than 50% and that most Gazans receive food assistance. It aded that 22% of the population of the West Bank lack clean water, and 14% is food insecure.
The groups said the expenditure of the funds appropriated for assistance to the West Bank and Gaza “will strengthen the humanitarian response in the region and at the same time promote security and stability for both Israelis and Palestinians and foster an atmosphere more conducive to a long-term resolution of the conflict.”
Some 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, a densely populated Palestinian strip of land surrounded by Israel and currently under Israeli blockade. The impoverished area often experiences power cuts, and it is difficult for goods to get into or out of Gaza due to its restricted access.
S. Res. 171 is co-conspored by Senators Chris Coons, Catherine Cortez Masto, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy, and Chris Van Hollen.
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