The US Embassy in Israel (pictured) has a Palestinian Affairs Unit that regularly offers Palestinians grants and funding opportunities that include, for students, US higher education and scholarships. But in response to the US offer of grants and funding opportunities, some Palestinian officials have warned their people not to deal with the US Embassy. (Image source: US Embassy in Israel/Wikimedia Commons)
Palestinian leaders have gone to great lengths to explain their opposition to US President Donald Trump's recently unveiled plan, "Peace to Prosperity," for Middle East peace.
While these leaders are entitled to oppose Trump's vision for peace, it is not clear why they are also rejecting US financial aid to Palestinians. By rejecting it, Palestinian leaders are denying their people the right to a better life and a strong economy.
The US Embassy in Israel has a Palestinian Affairs Unit that regularly offers Palestinians grants and funding opportunities that include, for students, US higher education and scholarships.
Recently, the Unit announced an open competition for grants to Palestinian individuals and not-for-profit organizations to implement activities that advance the organization's or individual's goals -- particularly if those goals include a comprehensive, lasting, negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians, a prosperous, stable, and transparent Palestinian society, economy and system of governance.
The program's main objectives are to provide students with the skills and experiences that will make them more competitive for higher education and work opportunities; build a culture of mentorship that cultivates leaders in Palestinian society, education and business; encourage citizens' engagement in participatory governance; foster entrepreneurship, critical thinking and problem-solving skills among the youth and between diverse communities, and to promote understanding, tolerance, pluralism and shared values.
The US Embassy's Palestinian Affairs Unit also announced a new funding opportunity to establish English-language summer camps for young Palestinians, and an open competition for Palestinian organizations to hold a conference on social media marketing for e-commerce.
These programs seem intended for the benefit of Palestinian youths. You would think that, notwithstanding political differences or controversy surrounding a peace plan, any leader who actually cared about the well-being of his or her people would welcome such an offer. You would be wrong.
Decisions, it seems, do not work that way when it comes to Palestinian political activists and leaders, who have been boycotting the US administration since December 2017, when President Trump announced that Washington recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
In response to the US offer of grants and funding opportunities, some Palestinian officials have warned their people not to deal with the US Embassy.
One official, Ra'fat Elayan, a senior representative of the Palestinian Authority's Fatah faction, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, issued a warning to Palestinians not to accept any funding from the US. "The Palestinians," Elayan said, noting that Palestinians opposed moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, "consider the US Embassy as a new settlement in the heart of Jerusalem."
The programs announced by the US Embassy in Jerusalem, he added, "are aimed at passing the Deal of the Century, [the Trump peace plan] that depicts the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict as a humanitarian issue, and not a political one."
In 2018, the Palestinians had similarly condemned the Trump administration for its decision to halt funding for Arab hospitals in Jerusalem.
At the time, President Trump, as part of a review of foreign aid, had ordered $25 million, earmarked for the care of Palestinians in east Jerusalem hospitals, to be reallocated. "As a result of that review, at the direction of the President, we will be redirecting approximately $25 million originally planned for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network," a State Department official had said. "Those funds will go to high-priority projects elsewhere."
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry had immediately denounced the decision and said it was part of a US attempt to "liquidate the Palestinian cause."
The Palestinians were also angry the same year when the Trump administration announced that it would redirect $200 million in Palestinian economic support funds for programs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and cut all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
Strangely, then, the Palestinians condemned the US administration for halting funds to hospitals and UNRWA, but now the leaders are condemning the US Embassy for offering grants and funding to Palestinian individuals and organizations.
According to the same Fatah official, Elayan, the US Embassy's latest offer to fund non-governmental organizations "comes at the expense of Palestinians' political rights." He added, "There is a clear decision by the Palestinian leadership to sever relations with the US administration. Palestinians must not deal with the announcements made by the US Embassy."
Even more strange is the response of the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) to the US Embassy's projects supporting the Palestinian community, institutions and individuals. PNGO said in a statement:
"The [US Embassy] announcement involves an awful lot of insolence and surprise, especially in light of what was announced by US President Donald trump on January 28 in the White House under the title of the political aspect of the Deal of the Century, which aims to liquidate the Palestinian issue, legitimate rights guaranteed under international laws, self-determination, and national independence...
"PNGO views this stark announcement as a continuation of the frank conformity in the positions of the American administration and the Israeli occupation government towards the Palestinian people, which reflects the true intentions of the American administration to replace the legitimate rights of Palestinians with alleged economic peace. With these moves, the American administration ignores the efforts of the institutions of the Palestinian society which were blackmailed through USAID projects and its known conditions."
The strange part is that Palestinian NGOs are usually the main beneficiaries of the US financial aid.
This time, however, PNGO called on Palestinians to boycott the US projects and said it would continue to work with other Palestinian institutions to thwart the projects proposed by the US.
Palestinians, in short, are saying that they refuse to accept funding by any party that does not accept their conditions and demands.
It is as if someone applies for a loan from a bank but demands that the bank accept his or her demands, and not the other way around. Usually, those who offer the money have the right to set the conditions.
For the Palestinians, it seems, the opposite is true. They seem to believe that they are the ones entitled to set conditions to those who are offering to improve their living needs and help them march towards prosperity and a better future for their children.
By rejecting the Trump plan even before it was published, Palestinian leaders may have missed not only a chance to end the conflict with Israel, but also to bring better times for their people.
That is what happens when leaders put themselves leagues ahead of the well-being of their citizens. Palestinian leaders know that their society is floundering in every possible way. Yet, rather than welcoming the proposed US programs, they are condemning the Americans and inciting their people against the US administration, for even making such a generous offer. This is precisely the disastrous dynamic that decades ago landed the Palestinian people in their quagmire, and it is precisely the same dynamic that keeps them trapped in that morass.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.