On Sunday, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi traveled to Cairo to meet with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry. It was, Ashkenazi tweeted, “the first formal visit of an Israeli FM in 13 years” to Egypt.
Chief among the topics, according to Deutsche Welle: “establishing a permanent cease-fire with Hamas, a mechanism for providing humanitarian aid and the reconstruction of Gaza with a pivotal role played by the international community,” as per Ashkenazi.
That ceasefire hasn’t been reached yet, of course, which is why Ashkenazi was in Egypt in the first place. Hamas, still recognized as an international terrorist group, will be the governing power in the Gaza Strip. There may be a tenuous ceasefire now, but Hamas still retains Iranian support and, as the BBC notes, its charter still “defines historic Palestine — including present-day Israel — as Islamic land and it rules out any permanent peace with the Jewish state.”
So why is the Biden administration set to send $188.5 million — including $38.5 million in new funding — to rebuild Gaza at this moment, even as senior administration officials admit “there are no guarantees” the money won’t go to the terrorist group?
According to The Times of Israel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the funding on Wednesday. In addition to the $150 million the administration had already promised the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, an additional $33 million was promised to the group.
Another $5.5 million would go to “emergency shelter, food, relief items and health care, as well as mental health and psychosocial support for those who experienced trauma” from the recent conflict, Blinken said.
All of this is supposed to stay out of the hands of both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which is supposed to be the overarching governmental authority in the West Bank and Gaza. (For the curious, the West Bank is controlled by the horribly corrupt Fatah party; Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, currently in the 16th year of a four-year term, unsurprisingly postponed the first round of elections since 2006 in late April, according to the BBC.)
It’s not because of the dysfunction that we can’t give the Palestinian Authority money, however — it’s the fact the government pays individuals who are imprisoned by Israel. According to The New York Times, the dollar amount increases the more time you spend behind bars. Think of it as a scholarship program for extremists. Until that program ends, however, we’re prohibited by law from giving to the Palestinian Authority.
But at least we have the UNRWA, right? Funny thing, that — they can’t guarantee the money we spend won’t go into Hamas’ hands, either.
“As we’ve seen in life, as we all know in life, there are no guarantees,” a senior State Department official said on May 24 about the possibility Hamas might get UNRWA money.
For one thing, UNRWA currently allows Hamas the use of its facilities. It also works with the Palestinian Authority, controlled by Fatah, which does this neat magic trick where it takes international aid and makes it disappear. There’s also the fact U.S. aid has reached Hamas in the past — which is why the Trump administration cut off funding to the Palestinians in 2018. Blinken and the Biden administration restored the aid without preconditions upon taking office.
Republicans aren’t thrilled with the arrangement or the fact State Department officials don’t seem especially perturbed that “there are no guarantees” this money ends up with Hamas.
“The Biden Administration has a fundamental obligation to do whatever it can to prevent American taxpayer dollars from winding up in the bank accounts of terrorists,” GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Washington Free Beacon.
“It is in no way acceptable for the State Department to flippantly offer that this is all a matter of fate well beyond their control,” the California Republican added.
Issa also noted the administration had refused to clarify what it meant when one of its officials said there were “no guarantees” we were funding terrorists.
“This reinforces the imperative of Congress’ core oversight function, and I hope that the White House provides quick clarification and commits to redoubling all its efforts to ensure that American aid is never handed over to those who would use it to take other people’s lives,” he said.
Republican Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said the remarks were “very disturbing,” adding that administration officials should “unequivocally tell us that American aid won’t go to terrorists.”
“The State Department needs to safeguard taxpayer dollars and make sure we’re not funding a war against Israel,” Banks said.
The Free Beacon also talked to Jonathan Schanzer, currently vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and formerly with the Treasury Department, where he was a terrorism finance expert. He said there was no way to fund rebuilding and aiding Gaza without reforming organizations like UNRWA.
“There needs to be approved aid organizations that are trusted by all sides. This probably means that new organizations should be created, with strong oversight mechanisms to prevent what has happened for more than a decade. The current channels have clearly failed,” Schanzer said.
“But the real problem is not the aid channels: The real problem here is Hamas’s control of Gaza. As long as this Iran-backed terrorist group retains its iron grip, it will be extremely difficult to help the population without inadvertently funding Hamas.”
Blinken, however, has framed the issue as a humanitarian one.
“U.S. foreign assistance for the Palestinian people serves important U.S. interests and values,” Blinken said in a statement. “It provides critical relief to those in great need, fosters economic development, and supports Israeli-Palestinian understanding, security coordination, and stability.”
Not necessarily, particularly when UNRWA’s ability to keep money away from terrorist groups is poor at best. Whatever “critical relief to those in great need” comes at the risk of funding the very organization that has created a situation in Gaza that requires critical relief.
A terrorist organization has control over the Gaza Strip and will retain it for the foreseeable future. Israeli Foreign Minister Ashkenazi hopes for a permanent ceasefire with the terrorists. It hasn’t come yet and the memories of Hamas’ rocket onslaughts aren’t even weeks old.
Yes, there’s a tenuous ceasefire — but, according to The Jerusalem Post, Iran says it’s already rebuilding Hamas’ rocket arsenal, and Hamas itself is busy saber-rattling with Israel. Fathi Hamad, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, said Sunday that “our factories and workshops have resumed production of thousands of missiles to stop the [attacks] of Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”
Sure, rebuild Gaza — but don’t do it when American money runs the risk of falling into the hands of terrorist thugs who’ll end up destroying it all over again. Without a permanent ceasefire, the decision on funding shouldn’t be that hard. The previous administration certainly figured it out, after all.