The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has contributed to mass casualties over its lifespan. Secretary of State John Kerry has established that brokering a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine is a top priority for this administration. The last round of talks failed but with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks this week at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, it looks like there could be a compromise.
While the peace process is a long and arduous journey, it appears as if the United States is not aiding but could potentially be actively hindering a deal. As many Israeli news outlets have reported, the United Stated is providing aid to terrorist Palestinian individuals and groups with direct funds to the Palestinian Authority (PA.) This topic was discussed at length during a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing this week in which fervor ran high. Witness and bestselling author Edwin Black (who recently wrote a book on the topic titled Financing the Flames) fervently described how the United States is a direct sponsor of terrorism.
According to Mr. Black, US taxpayer money is directly supplied to the PA and those in the PA can go “from rags to riches” by committing acts of terror. The PA actually provides a salary to terrorist actors. Individuals who commit acts of terror and are sentenced to jail time are then rewarded financially by the PA – the harsher the crime or sentence, the more they make. These individuals then attain powers of attorney (POA) who receive their salaries and can then do whatever they want with the money. Mr. Black states that this is not a welfare situation where impoverished individuals are trying to earn money anyway they can to help their family, instead, they are giving their salaries back to terrorist groups. These prisoners can then be set free during prison transfers. Fellow witness David Pollock, Kaufman Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, stated the per capita income in the West Bank can be up to $4,000 per year – to which subcommittee Chair Ted Poe (R-TX) replied, “crime pays.”
Many subcommittee members were astonished to discover and discuss US terrorist funding. Israel is one of Washington’s greatest allies and many lawmakers believe recent actions by the Obama administration have undermined this important and longstanding relationship. Israel is not squeaky clean when it comes to the regional conflict either. In a blog post last year, a Knesset member described how the Israeli government has persecuted Arabs and Palestinians. Despite the fact that Netenyahu says he is for a two state solution, his actions indicate otherwise.
In order to dig deeper into this conflict it is important to better understand: 1) how is the US providing aid to Palestine and how is the money getting to terrorist groups; 2) the terrorist make-up of the region and how these attacks are carried out and; 3) the division between Israel and Palestine and if a peace deal is possible.
First, how is the US providing aid? According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report from last September, the United States is the largest donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), a voluntary aid fund for Palestinian refugees for UN members. The report outlines the three priorities of the United States; 1) preventing terrorism; 2) humanitarian support and; 3) stability for self-governance in the West Bank. Contrary to Mr. Black’s assertions, the stance of the United States is to build a state capable of dispelling terrorist groups such as Hamas. The Palestinian government has had a significant problem ridding the Gaza strip of Hamas control, which is another concern for dissenters of US aid. While the US has stipulated it will not provide aid to Hamas directly, the CRS report points out:
“It is unclear whether a consensus government of the type anticipated under various Fatah-Hamas agreements since 2011 would come under the legal definition of a ‘power-sharing PA government that includes Hamas as a member’ or a government over which Hamas exercises ‘undue influence.’ It is also unclear whether it would come under the legal definition of a ‘Hamas-controlled’ PA government, and thus trigger the additional conditions on U.S. aid cited above…Also, since 2012, some PA security personnel have reportedly been involved in criminal activity in a way that has raised questions about the sustainability of law and order in parts of the northern West Bank that have been held out as models of progress. This reportedly mainly involved personnel who had been granted amnesty from previous involvement with terrorist groups.”
This raises questions as to the legitimacy of such an arrangement. Furthermore, CRS stated that the president can waive certain restrictions for national security purposes. So while it appears the United States is violating its own anti-terrorism laws and stipulations involving international agreements, there has been no effort to curtail such violations. Mr. Black believes the State Department is wholesale funding these terrorist entities and that Secretary Kerry is accountable. In his Congressional testimony, he asserted that money goes into the PA, which does not have a defined currency, and it is then laundered and redistributed through various banks among other nations such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan. When asked how to solve the situation, Black firmly replied the US must stop giving money to the PA and “do not pay for murderers.”
Second, it is important to point out and better define what terrorist actors are at play and how they are carrying out such atrocities with the hopes of more assertive combative methods against such practices. Steven Perles, Founder and Senior Partner at Perles Law Firm, who also testified on Capitol Hill this week, stated that terrorism in the region has a two tiered design. The first is an upper level of terrorism, which involves high level training. In one example, Mr. Perles cited an individual who was trained in Iran, and was able to produce a bomb made from American materials by traveling to Egypt and recruiting members to sift through World War II mine fields and collect unexploded mines. The lower level involves suicide bombers or martyrs who’s POA receive compensation for their efforts through privately funded Saudi currency, (not officially tied to the government) which is then funneled through New York.
Hamas is the main terrorist organization in the region and they receive funds through various state sponsors. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Hamas has enjoyed funding from private donors in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, as well as oil-rich Gulf states including Iran. Despite Hamas’s established presence, many individuals who commit acts of terror are not necessarily associated with terror cells, but rather are motivated by the money they will receive for their acts from the PA. This creates an even larger problem because rogues, or “lone wolves” are acting on their own making it significantly harder to snuff out terrorist activity. As Mr. Perles also noted, the US is very good at hunting down and bringing to justice those who commit terrorist acts outside of Israel. However, the US has been unsuccessful at bringing those responsible for such acts inside Israel to justice for fear of sovereignty violations and a desire to appear to remain neutral.
Third, is a peace deal between Israel and Palestine possible? For those who testified in Congress recently, peace is not possible if the United States continues to contribute to terrorist activity. It is the belief of many experts that both Israelis and Palestinians want a peace deal. Some, such as Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), believe Palestine’s refusal to return to pre-1960’s borders is hindering a deal. Others believe Israel has made numerous concessions and again, Palestine is to blame for their stubbornness.
Israel has been harsh in their military crackdown in Palestinian regions for Israel believes they are entitled to the region because they settled there first. Last November, Israel’s Minister of Economy, Naftali Bennett, spoke at the Brookings Institution. During his speech he stated, “We’re being called ‘occupiers.’ I just showed you a coin from 2,000 years ago. The coin is from Jerusalem, the same Jerusalem that this proposed settlement [peace deal] would divide. You can’t occupy your own home. It doesn’t work. When you live in your home, you can’t be considered an occupier.” He went on to comment, “If the Palestinians could press a button and we’d evaporate, they would, and vice versa, right? There’s no love in the air. But there is a degree of realization that no one is going anywhere. They’re here to stay, we’re here to stay, now let’s figure out how we live side-by-side.” This harsh culture clash has been brewing for centuries and the key is finding a middle ground between Arabs and Jews – not an easy challenge.
If the United States is, in fact, a direct sponsor of the terrorism occurring in the Israel-Palestine region, there are serious repercussions. Not only would this destroy the relationship between the United States and its greatest ally, it would completely invalidate all that the US has done to condemn nations such as Iran for doing the same. America’s standing in the world would be shattered and its credibility obliterated. While Secretary Kerry has vigorously tried to broker a peace deal in the region, it would appear the action of the administration in support of the PA is working against such a deal. It is as if the administration is negotiating, and losing, with itself.