WASHINGTON — Lawmakers passed an emergency aid package for the Palestinians this week, but some Jewish organizations and Palestinian activists are lamenting the measure as a missed opportunity to support Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Only about $140 million of the $200 million requested by the Bush administration will end up going to development projects in Gaza and the West Bank. About $50 million of the remaining money is slated to help Israel build high-tech border-crossings along the pre-1967 border, with another $5 million set aside to pay for ongoing auditing to make sure that the funds are spent appropriately.
And, in a development that startled many Capitol Hill observers, $2 million is earmarked for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, to support healthcare services that its two hospitals in Jerusalem provide to Palestinians.
Adding to the frustration of those backing the aid was the decision by Congress to ban direct aid to the P.A.
“This sends the wrong message to Mahmoud Abbas,” said Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and now president of the Israel Policy Forum. “It undermines his leadership and we should all be concerned about that.”
The forum, along with Americans for Peace Now, aggressively lobbied Congress to allocate the full $200 million and to give President Bush the discretion to disburse some of the funds directly to Abbas.
The aid package is part of the $82 billion 2005 emergency supplemental spending bill that mainly provides funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was approved by the House of Representatives last week and by the Senate on Tuesday.
The legislation clearly states that none of the money should be spent on “direct financial support for the Palestinian Authority,” though the bill permits Bush to waive the restriction for national security purposes.
The bill allocate funds directly to two non-governmental organizations: Hadassah and Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, a small Catholic maternity hospital that will receive $3.5 million.
The inclusion of Hadassah as a beneficiary in the bill surprised many in Washington. Hadassah officials claim they were caught off guard, and credited Republican Eric Cantor, the deputy majority whip in the House. Marla Gilson, who directs Hadassah’s Washington Action Office, explained: “I had basically made the comment to Rep. Cantor’s staff that it seemed ironic to me that we were giving $200 million to the Palestinian Authority, while there were many [non-Palestinian] humanitarian organizations that also give services in the area, and we were one of them.”
The bill does not state clearly how the money for Hadassah should be used.
The allocation was criticized by Ghaleb Darabya, who handles political and congressional affairs at the PLO Mission in Washington.
“Money for Hadassah, which is in Israel, not in Palestine — that’s not right,” Darabya said. “This is money that’s supposed to support Palestinian institutions.”
Cantor defended the aid, telling the Forward: “The hospitals operated by Hadassah serve as a bridge between Israeli and Palestinian people by taking care of innocent victims of the scourge of terrorism.”
For the most part, Palestinians expressed their frustration quietly, both in the West Bank and in Washington. “After all,” one pro-Palestinian activist in Washington said, “we are getting almost $150 million, and we are supposed to get another $150 million in next year’s foreign aid bill.”