Last year, Congress approved $147 million in aid to the Palestinians which should have been spent last year to rebuild infrastructure and generate economic growth.  Two congresswomen, however, have delayed those funds for 8 months.  Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist, comments on the recent release of some of these funds.

Congresswoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, announced on March 23 that she was ending her restriction on the funds.  The second congresswoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, agreed recently to release her hold on part of the funds – $88 million – with some restrictions that Kuttab says potentially inhibits the growth of Christian tourism in the Holy Land. 

Ros-Lehtinen stipulated that the money not be used for assistance in Gaza or for road construction projects in the West Bank, except if directly related to security.  She also denied use for trade facilitation, tourism promotion, scholarships for Palestinian students and other aid for Palestinian Authority agencies and ministries.  Kattub comments:

It is hard to understand why a member of Congress would set such conditions over the recommendations of USAID. The USAID money for reconstruction of Gaza was pledged by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and doesn’t go to the Hamas-led government but to the people of Gaza, who suffered tremendous hardships during the Israeli war in 2008-09. Road construction and trade facilitation projects in the West Bank fit perfectly with the two-state solution, which Israel’s prime minister supports.

He also thinks that this move contradicts a request for proposals from USAID, in which the U.S. government was looking for contractors able to help in rebuilding the following Christian sites in the occupied West Bank:

  • Burqeen church near Jenin, a Christian sanctuary dating to the early Byzantine era. The current structure dates to the 12th century.
  • Sabastia/Samria. The biblical capital of the Northern Kingdom of Ancient Israel, the current ruins date from the Roman period.
  • Tell Balata Archaeological Park in Nablus, which is listed as an archeological biblical site. It’s the site of the Canaanite and biblical city of Shechem.
  • Jacob’s well, reputed to be the site of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. The site is also associated with the biblical patriarchs.
  • Shepherd’s field in Beit Sahour, which is a Christian site near Bethlehem.

It is interesting that one or two people can counteract the will of congress, our democratically-elected means of governing.