WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today announced the introduction of a Senate resolution to restore U.S. humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza. Merkley was joined on the resolution by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
“Thousands of individuals are facing dire health and economic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza,” said Merkley. “The U.S. has a long tradition as a leader in humanitarian aid that helps address the plight of victims of humanitarian crises around the world. Aid to innocent civilians should not be caught up in broader geopolitical battles. We can and should restore aid to children and other vulnerable populations at the same time as we stand steadfastly by Israel’s security.”
“Humanitarian aid has always been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy because it addresses the plight of innocent civilians and affirms our shared beliefs,” said Coons. “It is critical that we restore lifesaving aid to the West Bank and Gaza, which Congress has already appropriated. Failing to restore this assistance will continue to contribute to a deteriorating situation in Palestinian territories and threaten the regional stability of the Middle East.”
“President Trump’s inhumane and dangerous decision to end all humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians – including millions of children – represented an unprecedented retreat from America’s role in the effort to support peace and advance democratic principles in the region,” said Van Hollen. “Unsurprisingly, it has only made a difficult situation even worse. The Administration’s abdication of leadership means that Congress must step in and take action. Failure to provide this aid doesn’t just threaten the lives of the Palestinian people, but it also puts Israel’s security at greater risk and undermines regional stability.”
“There are thousands of children and families in the West Bank and Gaza who need the aid the United States has historically provided” said Cortez Masto. “If we want to help Israelis and Palestinians move toward peace, we must continue try to ease the suffering of ordinary people on both sides of the conflict.”
“President Trump’s refusal to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people is a strategic mistake,” said Feinstein. “Denying funding for clean water, health care and schools in the West Bank and Gaza won’t make us safer. Instead it only emboldens extremist groups like Hamas and pushes peace further out of reach.”
The Merkley resolution would direct the executive branch to resume providing humanitarian aid that is distributed through non-governmental organizations, which Congress has appropriated but the Trump administration has refused to obligate. It also highlights the importance of providing critical bilateral aid that supports essential health services and provides food that benefits Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza.
The resolution is supported by numerous U.S.-based and international aid groups, including Mercy Corps, Refugees International, Catholic Relief Services, and others. A statement of support from a broad coalition of NGOs can be read here.
A copy of the full resolution is available here and follows below.
Title: Expressing the sense of Congress regarding restoring United States bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza.
Whereas the dire health and economic conditions facing the Palestinian people has created a humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza. The United States has long been a leader in helping address the plight of innocent civilians;
Whereas these fragile conditions could contribute to circumstances that would undermine Israel’s security and stability in the region;
Whereas the Palestinian Authority’s interpretation of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (Public Law 115–253), which sought to help United States victims of terrorism abroad, led the Palestinian Authority to reject all forms of United States assistance, meaning that funding for organizations implementing humanitarian aid programs that provide critical services, such as health care and sanitation to civilians, cannot be carried out; and
Whereas the Department of State has failed to obligate any of the funds Congress appropriated in fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2018, $302,750,000 and $257,500,000, respectively, for bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that—
(1) the Executive branch should expend before the end of fiscal year 2019 all bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza that Congress appropriated for such assistance in fiscal year 2018, including —
(A) $196,500,000 for the Economic Support Fund;
(B) $60,000,000 for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement; and
(C) $1,000,000 for Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related Programs;
(2) programs and activities funded by the Economic Support Fund as described above are focused primarily on providing food, essential health services, and other humanitarian goods and services, and these expenditures must be consistent with the restrictions and exceptions provided in the Taylor Force Act (title X of division S of Public Law 115–141); and
(3) legislation should be enacted to clarify that programs and activities funded through the Economic Support Fund and that are consistent with the Taylor Force Act (title X of division S of Public Law 115–141) may not be used as a basis to assert jurisdiction over the Palestinian Authority pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act.