The State Department is conducting a review of all foreign aid parceled out in the final two months of the Obama administration, including the controversial last-minute release of $220 million to Palestinians announced just hours before Donald Trump was sworn in as president.
The review involves dozens, if not hundreds, of foreign aid allocations made after Trump was elected. According to State Department officials, most if not all of the money has already been transferred. Unless the review turns up any instances where protocol was not strictly followed, it is unlikely that any adjustments can be made, even if the aid does not mesh with the emerging policies of the Trump administration.
The Obama administration made a flurry of decisions in its final weeks in an attempt to lock in many of its policies and initiatives before Trump took office and changed or reversed them. The Trump administration has spent much of its first week in power doing exactly that.
Just three days before Trump's inauguration, the State Department announced a $500 million contribution to the U.N. Green Climate Fund. The money, which came from the State Department’s Economic Support Fund, was the second installment of a total of $3 billion the United States had promised to the fund under President Obama.
But the remaining $2 billion may not be forthcoming. Republicans have criticized the spending, and Trump has vowed to “cancel” the Paris climate agreement and stop all payments to U.N. global-warming programs.
In another case under review, the day before the inauguration, outgoing Secretary of State John F. Kerry awarded $1 million in humanitarian aid to UNICEF, earmarked for helping people affected by floods in North Korea.
But by far the most controversial late aid award was the $220.3 million granted to Palestinians. In his final act as secretary of state, Kerry officially notified Congress on Friday morning, Inauguration Day, that the money was being released. It is unclear how much of the money has been transferred already.
The funding had been approved by Congress, but GOP lawmakers in the House placed holds on it, in response to moves by the Palestinian Authority to become full members of international organizations such as the United Nations and UNESCO.
Funding for the U.S. donation came from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The State Department notification to Congress said it would be used for humanitarian aid, to support political and security reforms, and to lay the groundwork for the rule of law in a future state of Palestine.
Now that allocation is a prime target for review — essentially meaning that State Department officials are going over the decision to document whether all legally required steps were followed.
“The Department is reviewing a number of programs notified to the Hill over the past two months, and will make adjustments as appropriate to ensure they align with the priorities of the Trump-Pence administration.,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
The United States is Israel’s closest ally, but it also has made large donations to international groups trying to help Palestinians rebuild after conflicts.
Privately, and in recent months publicly, Kerry was extremely critical of settlement construction in the West Bank, where Palestinians aspire to build an independent state. The State Department had been increasingly strident in its criticism over the past year, saying the Jewish settlements were undermining the chances for a negotiated, two-state peace deal.
Trump and his senior aides have sounded far more sympathetic to the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which Kerry called the most right-wing government in Israeli history. Trump has selected a prominent backer of settlements as ambassador to Israel, and the administration is weighing whether to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.