The Trump Administration has taken a number of steps to end all financial assistance to Palestinians, including civil society organizations. These decisions have been widely reported as a negotiating tactic from the White House seeking to pressure the PA to return to negotiations and accept America’s role of mediator.
Whether these unprecedented steps will advance the latest peace efforts remains to be seen. But beyond this mega-issue, the focus on the funding provides an opportunity for current and former US officials to review a number of long-entrenched frameworks, involving hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
The cutoff of funds for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) active in the West Bank and Gaza, including for groups ostensibly involved in peace dialogues, has triggered a debate on whether this policy was useful or counterproductive. Did the officials involved have the resources and information needed to make complex decisions in this highly contentious political realm? Was the funding process subject to the highest standards of accountability and transparency, or did they rely on NGO self-reporting and manipulation, as is often the case in Europe? Although NGOs are a multi-billion dollar industry, they are still often seen through rose-colored glasses – producing what is known as the NGO “halo effect”.
The most significant framework for this funding has been USAID – the US Agency for International Development – which disbursed over $280 million to the West Bank and Gaza in 2016. USAID was and continues to be subject to serious oversight and auditing processes, and when compared to European and Australian counterparts, has avoided providing funds to groups that are directly involved in terror. With a few exceptions, USAID also did not funds groups promoting the blatantly anti-peace agendas that are characteristic of many Palestinian NGOs.