Lawmakers and other critics are lashing out at a plan to give nearly $1 billion in U.S. aid to Gaza, saying American tax dollars will end up in the hands of terrorists and that rebuilding the coastal strip is futile until a peace agreement is reached.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged $900 million from the American government at the Sharm el-Sheikh conference this week, a sum which includes $300 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza and $600 million to bolster the Palestinian Authority run by Hamas’ rival party, Fatah. Overall, some 80 nations pledged a total of $5 billion to rebuild Gaza following Israel’s three-week military offensive against Hamas rocket launchers in the Palestinian enclave.
The money must still be approved by Congress, where it is likely to encounter opposition.
“To route $900 million to this area, and let’s say Hamas was only able to steal 10 percent of that, we would still become Hamas’ second-largest funder after Iran,” U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. told FOXNews.com. “If assistance is provided through reputable foreign aid mechanisms that allow outside audits, support on the Hill would build. But if it goes thru UNRWA, which has not had an outside audit, then there’s going to be grave concern.”
The donations will be facilitated by aid organizations and private contractors. One of the main aid organizations in Gaza, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, has been accused of hiring known terrorists and propagating anti-Israel sentiment in school books.
U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman, D-New Jersey, has introduced a resolution calling on the United Nations to make UNRWA’s accounting more transparent. The United States, the single largest donor to UNRWA, contributed $148 million to the organization last year.
“While UNRWA remains the primary delivery mechanism for humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territories, there is absolutely no reason why the United Nations cannot take aggressive action to ensure that not one penny of U.S. dollars is being redistributed to terrorists,” Rothman said in a statement. “U.S. anti-terror law explicitly prohibits U.S. taxpayer dollars from supporting terrorists.”
Aaron David Miller, a public policy scholar with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former advisor to the peace process, said Hamas might not receive any of the pledged funds directly, but that it would benefit from the international largesse as the de-facto leader of the region.
“Any reconstruction or humanitarian aid that is done under their auspices will boost their political credibility and demonstrate the international community hasn’t succeeded in sanctioning them, boycotting them, or prevented aid from entering Gaza,” he said.
The real problem, he added, is there are no guarantees the fighting is over: “We may be rebuilding a few more times.”
Just today, Israel bombed six smuggling tunnels in southern Gaza in response to weekend rocket attacks, one of which badly damaged an empty school on Saturday. Since the cease-fire was declared on Jan. 18, the army claims that nearly 130 rockets and mortar shells have been fired into Israel.
A New York Republican who lost a bid for Congress in November, criticized the pledge noting that no money has been offered to rebuild southern Israeli towns battered by nine years of Palestinian rockets.
“I worry that the money which we are sending to Gaza will buy more terrorism on the backs of the American taxpayer at a time when American taxpayers have much better uses for close to a billion dollars,” Liz Berney told JTA. “Giving money to Gaza sends a message that terrorism - namely shooting 10,000 rockets at Israeli civilians - has no cost.”
In addition to this recent pledge, the U.S. gave $600 million to the Palestinian Authority in 2008.
Since the cease-fire, Hamas has been quick to appear as the social advocate that got the group elected in the first place. The group handed out $5,000-checks to Palestinians after the fighting and now, as reported in the newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, is buying 1,000 mobile homes from Egypt for families left homeless.
Meanwhile, Clinton met with several Israeli leaders today in Jerusalem to reinforce the Obama administration’s intensified efforts in the Middle East peace process.
“During the conference I emphasized President Obama's and my commitment to working to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and our support for the Palestinian Authority of President (Mahmoud) Abbas and Prime Minister (Salam) Fayyad,” she told the media after a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Peres assured Clinton that Israel has mutual goals.
“Any government that will be established in Israel will have to continue the peace process, and there is a majority in the Knesset in support of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said.
The United Nation, meanwhile issued a complaint Tuesday against the Israelis for blocking a aid and reconstruction supplies to the combat-battered Gaza strip. According to a UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs statement, “key crossings remain closed or partially closed, reconstruction materials are still prohibited, and restrictions on food types, clothing and schoolbooks have been maintained.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the situation at border crossings “intolerable,” stressing that opening them was the first priority for aid and reconstruction efforts.
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