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U.S. Funds Enter Fray In Palestinian Elections

A Palestinian police officer walks past ballot boxes at a Palestinian Election Commission warehouse in the West Bank.
A Palestinian police officer walks past ballot boxes at a Palestinian Election Commission warehouse in the West Bank. (Kevin Frayer - AP)

Plans called for roughly 40 small projects or events, ranging in cost from $5,000 to $50,000 each, that would benefit the Palestinian Authority. No USAID logos would be used.

Asked if the decision not to use the USAID brand was a way to hide its involvement, Bever said, "I could see it could look that way." He said some of the projects might bear the agency logo, although it was not apparent on those visited by reporters from The Post or in ads published this week.

"We wanted to give maximum credit to the Palestinian Authority and to the freely elected president, Mahmoud Abbas, for taking the initiative and for inviting us to help get the message out to the Palestinian people," Bever said.

The point man in Abbas's office was his chief of staff, Husseini, a member of a prominent Jerusalem family. In an interview last week, Husseini said U.S. officials told him they had about $2 million to spend on 30 or so projects before the elections. He said his office provided them with "names of people who could do this best."

"It was some small money to help us quickly affect the lives of people. It was to show that the Palestinian Authority cares," Husseini said. "They were very responsive and understood we needed to have a better impact."

"Campaigning may come into this, but only marginally," Husseini said. "It is not political campaigning, but campaigning for the Palestinian national cause, as Mahmoud Abbas sees it."

In recent days, the newspapers Al-Ayam and Al-Quds have featured ads for projects described in the Action Plan Support Unit's most recent progress report. On some days, three such ads -- all bearing the seal of the Palestinian Authority but no USAID logo -- appeared on a single page.

"Why so many ads at the same time?" said Saad Abdul Hadi, whose Ramallah-based public relations company, Al-Nasher, is doing the advertising. "Because we are in a very sensitive time, in the elections. That's why now."

In Jericho last week, 10 teams gathered in the municipal stadium in the hopes of winning the first-ever Olive Cup, the U.S.-funded championship of Palestinian youth soccer. As boys darted across the patchy field in uniforms purchased with money from USAID, banners bearing the emblem of the Palestinian Authority and a new logo created for the U.S.-funded projects celebrated the event, which was attended by several hundred Palestinians.

Ibrahim Sabbah, 40, director of the sports division of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, said he had been asking Palestinian leaders for years to finance such a tournament. This month, Husseini's office told him $10,000 was available immediately.

"I was very surprised," Sabbah said. "And very happy. We were able to do this very quickly because we had been planning it for years. But we'd never had the money until now."

Sabbah said he knew only that the funds came from the Palestinian Authority president's office. It didn't matter who paid for the event, he said happily, as teams from Jenin and Nablus took the field. In a few hours, representatives from Husseini's office would arrive with the Olive Cup trophy and medals for the winners.

Kessler reported from Washington.

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