The Tel Aviv-based Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, representing 24 Americans living in Israel, filed a civil action lawsuit against the State Department last November claiming that the U.S. government is funding Palestinian terrorism in the West Bank and Gaza.
The plaintiffs, some of whom have been victims of Palestinian terrorism, “are fearful that the money that is going to the Palestinian Authority eventually winds up in the hands of the terrorist organizations that can be facilitated to carry out attacks against them,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the director of the Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center and one of the lawyers on the case, told The Daily Caller. “So they find themselves in a very weird situation where their tax money is going actually to attacks against them,” she added.
The Obama administration, not surprisingly, has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. It argued that the plaintiffs do not have legal standing to bring the suit – i.e., they did not suffer direct personal injury traceable to the actions alleged to be illegal. The Obama administration also argued that the courts have no business getting involved in foreign policy decisions that are inherently “political questions.” These are nothing more than pretextual arguments to prevent discovery of the truth whether the Obama administration is violating express congressional conditions on the granting of aid to the Palestinian Authority and for the West Bank and Gaza.
The plaintiffs are Americans living in Israel. Some were physically injured by past Palestinian terrorist attacks. All of them face the daily danger of being the victims of more attacks by Palestinian terrorist organizations. They deserve to have their day in court to hold the Obama administration accountable for allegedly violating laws designed to ensure that U.S. taxpayer money is not diverted to those terrorist organizations.
The lawsuit, Bernstein vs. Clinton, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claims that the State Department has failed to observe congressional safeguards, transparency, and reporting requirements in its funding of the Palestinian Authority and United Nations Refugee Worker’s Administration (UNRWA). In addition, the plaintiffs claim that the White House has not been complying with the regulations and reporting obligations governing presidential waivers which facilitate emergency funding to the Palestinians. As a result, the suit alleges, American taxpayer money has ended up in the wrong places, directly or indirectly supporting Palestinian terrorist causes.
Since the mid-1990s, the United States has given the Palestinians over $4 billion. During the last four fiscal years alone, average aid has been roughly $600 million per year. The Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are among the largest per capita recipients of U.S. foreign aid worldwide.
Last month, the U.S. State Department announced that nearly $500 million in aid had been unblocked for transfer to the Palestinian Authority, months after Congress froze the funds in late-2012. But the Obama administration has no way of guaranteeing that at least some of the money it plans to lavish on the Palestinian Authority won’t find its way from Palestinian Authority coffers to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations. That should be of concern, especially after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said during an interview aired last month on Russian Today TV that there was “no difference between our policies and those of Hamas.” Moreover, according to a report released by Palestinian Media Watch, a portion of the Palestinian Authority’s monthly budget, which the Obama administration is so anxious to fund, is used to provide salaries for Palestinians who have been imprisoned for acts of terrorism.
Additionally, the United States is the largest single-state donor to UNRWA, to which it gives more than $200 million each year. UNRWA was originally set up as a temporary relief agency for the original refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. It has morphed into a bottomless money pit to support their descendants, several generations removed—now comprising approximately 5 million Palestinians in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza.
In 2011, UNRWA’s total budget for its core programs, emergency activities and special projects was $1.2 billion. U.S. contributions in 2011 constituted approximately 25% of the total budget. Aggregate contributions from the Muslim world constituted approximately 15% of the total budget. U.S. contributions totaled $233.3 million for fiscal year 2012 ($125.4 million for the general fund, $103.8 million for emergency funds and special projects).
UNRWA claims that it screens its staff and contractors every six months for terrorist ties, but its terrorist screening list does not include Hamas, Hezbollah, or most other militant groups that operate in UNRWA’s surroundings. A former UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen admitted, without any show of concern, “Oh I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don’t see that as a crime.”
A group affiliated with Hamas, known as the Islamic Bloc, has controlled the teachers’ section of the UNRWA union in Gaza, enabling the Islamic Bloc to run its indoctrination programs in the UNRWA schools that U.S. taxpayers may be helping to fund. UNRWA schools use classroom materials that glorify terrorists, and which contain maps in which Israel has been erased.
Against this murky background, the complaint alleges that the defendants in the Obama administration have “authorized, sanctioned, encouraged, and/or facilitated funding to the Palestinian Authority without imposing the controls and oversight mandated by federal statute… and allowed the Palestinian Authority to evade transparency safeguards mandated by American law.”
The result, the plaintiffs claim in their complaint, is to allow “federal dollars into the hands of Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (both recognized foreign terrorist organizations), the Palestinian Liberation Organization (a terrorist organization), employees of the Palestinian Authority who are barred access to federal funds pursuant to federal statute, and other supporters of terrorism against civilians who live in Israel.”
The plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction requiring the defendants to comply with federal anti-terrorism laws and cease all funding to the Palestinian Authority, UNRWA, and others in the West Bank and Gaza, until they can be sure that federal funds will not be diverted to support terrorism.
“Rather than defend the government’s foreign aid policy on its merits and provide proof that it truly knows where taxpayer money to the PA [Palestinian Authority] is going, the government’s lawyers are trying to dismiss the lawsuit on legal technicalities. They are saying that it is pure speculation that Americans can be injured by terrorism in Israel and that the issue of funding is a foreign policy power reserved to the US President and cannot be reviewed by the courts,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center’s director, said. “This lawsuit does not challenge the President and the State Dept’s right to conduct foreign policy nor fund the Palestinians. These plaintiffs simply object to the executive branch’s funding of the PA without oversight. It is a legitimate objection by two dozen Americans, who are the class of individuals Congress sought to protect through their safeguards.”
Unfortunately, the Obama administration will probably prevail in court because the judicial branch is generally reluctant to second guess executive branch foreign policy decisions and assumes that Congress’s oversight and appropriation powers will provide a sufficient political check.
Whatever happens to the lawsuit, Congress needs to step up immediately and investigate the Obama administration’s handling of U.S. aid to the Palestinians through bilateral and United Nations channels. It should hold hearings on whether its current oversight, vetting, monitoring, and evaluation requirements are being met or whether they need to be further tightened. It should assess whether it is time to scale back or end those Palestinian aid programs that are most vulnerable to abuse. Even one dollar of U.S. taxpayers’ money that is allowed to be diverted to pay for support of Palestinian terrorists because of lax oversight is one dollar too much.
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