US economic aid bill for Palestinians proposed

US Congress Photo: Reuters Jim Young

The bill is supported by Democrats, Republicans, AIPAC, J Street, and Peace Now - organizations that rarely agree on anything.

The Partnership Fund for Peace Act, a bipartisan bill to encourage investments in Palestinian ventures and strengthen cooperation between Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans, was introduced yesterday in both houses of Congress in Washington.

The bill is supported by Democrats, Republicans, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC - the pro-Israel lobby in Washington), J Street, and Peace Now - organizations that rarely agree on anything.

"Time and time again, Congress has reiterated its support for a two-state solution that leads to two states for two peoples," said House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations chairwoman Representative Nita Lowey (D, New York), one of the bill's sponsors. "To aid the pursuit of this dream, this bipartisan legislation would stimulate economic development and build community ties between Israelis and Palestinians. There are no shortcuts to peace, and this bill lays the foundation for this generation and those to come to engage in the hard work of peace-building.”

The new bill does not directly involve a two-state solution, but a possibly related separate bipartisan legislative initiative promoting such a solution was also revealed yesterday.

The Axios website yesterday published a report by Israeli journalist Barak Ravid that Senator Lindsay Graham (R, South Carolina) and Senator Chris Van Hollen (D, Maryland) were about to introduce a Senate resolution in support of a two-state solution. This resolution is likely to generate pressure on the Trump administration, which has refrained from supporting the idea, in contrast to the previous administrations.

Axios reported that Israel Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and other embassy diplomats were pressuring Graham, a personal friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to remove the phrase "two-state solution" from their resolution. According to Axios, Graham has so far resisted the Israeli pressure. Graham is also one of the sponsors of the bill that would grant economic aid to the Palestinians.

In response to a query from "Globes," Israeli US embassy spokesperson Elad Strohmayer said that the embassy was not responding to this report.

Other sponsors of the bill to encourage investments in Palestinian ventures are Senator Chris Coons (D, Delaware), Senator Tim Kaine (D, Virginia), Senator Cory Gardner (R, Colorado), and Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R, Nebraska).

This bill is likely to prove very important, given the fact that the Trump administration's peace plan, the "Deal of the Century," has been rendered irrelevant by new elections in Israel and the Palestinians' stubborn refusal to cooperation with the administration's efforts. They are refusing to participate in the economic "workshop" in Bahrain scheduled for June 25-26, to be attended by representatives of dozens of countries.

The conference is designed to raise tens of billions of dollars in investments from the Persian Gulf states and Asian and European countries in the hope of convincing the Palestinians to accept the Trump administration's peace vision.

The White House has never mentioned exactly how much it was planning to raise, but diplomats and legislators in Washington said that the objective was to raise $68 billion to be channeled to the Palestinians, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. The diplomatic part of the peace plan will be published only after a new government is formed in Israel, which will probably not happen before October or November, by which time the US presidential election campaign will begin.

Under the new bill, the Partnership Fund for Peace will be budgeted by Congress, and will operate under the auspices of the US Agency for International Development, a federal instrument for distributing US financial aid to most countries (not including Israel). $50 million will be allocated to establish the fund, a tiny sum in comparison with what the Trump administration hopes to raise in Bahrain.

The bill states that the fund will "promote joint economic development and finance ventures between Palestinian entrepreneurs and companies and those in the United States and Israel to improve economic cooperation and people-to-people peacebuilding programs, and to further shared community building, peaceful coexistence, dialogue, and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians" in order "to improve the quality of life, stimulate the economy, and advance security by creating private sector jobs."

"Job creation is the best way to turn people away from violence," Coons said. "This legislation will promote small businesses and economic growth in the Palestinian territories and foster cooperation and reconciliation in the Middle East."

Since becoming president, Trump has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians, including the US contribution to the budget of UNRWA, the UN aid and employment agency, and $200 million designated for humanitarian programs in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 6, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

US Congress Photo: Reuters Jim Young
US Congress Photo: Reuters Jim Young
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