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Conservatives, pro-Israel groups express opposition to Biden admin’s Palestine aid

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The United States plans to restore over $200 million in aid to Palestinians, after large funding cuts made under the Trump administration.

“[We] plan to restart U.S. economic, development, and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement on Wednesday.

Included in that aid is $75 million in economic and development assistance for the West Bank and Gaza and $150 million for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), a U.N. agency that supports over five million Palestinian refugees throughout the region.

While the move garnered support from various Western allies of the U.S. and pro-Palestine advocates, Israel along with many conservative and pro-Israel groups and individuals have expressed staunch opposition to the decision.

“We believe that this UN agency for so-called refugees should not exist in its current format,” said Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N.

“I am deeply troubled by recent decisions from the Biden Administration to turn a blind eye to behavior by the Palestinian Authority,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) said in a statement.

The senator also criticized the move to give money to UNRWA, which he said “does little more than subsidize a corrupt regime and a status quo in the West Bank and in Jordan” when it comes to the Palestinians and that it “has been historically antagonistic to Israel and an impediment to peace.”

“Mr. Secretary, I support aid to Palestinians but your decision to give $150 million to UNRWA without any conditions is a mistake,” international human rights activist and lawyer Hillel Neuer tweeted in response to Blinken. “Even the Swiss foreign minister said: ‘UNRWA has become part of the problem. By supporting UNRWA, we keep the conflict alive. It’s a perverse logic.'”

“I’m sure Hamas and the PA dictators are also only more than ‘pleased’,” tweeted Arsen Ostrovsky, another lawyer and political analyst who deals with international human rights.

“How will you and @POTUS ensure this money will not be spent to reward the murders of Jews with lifelong salaries?” StopAntisemitism.org tweeted.

“How will you ensure that the money goes to humanitarian assistance & not terrorism and incitement? What protocols do you have in place for this especially knowing the money has been misused for decades? What will you do to reduce the number of refugees instead of adding to it?” tweeted Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, an activist who has written for various Israeli outlets such as The Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @DouglasPBraff.

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International

Arab States Unlikely to Join Broad Military Defense with Israel Against Iran

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Iranian Sayyad 3 missiles

In an effort to re-charge the Abraham Accords launched by the Trump administration, Sens. Jodi Ernst (R-IA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and James Lankford (R-OK) introduced the DEFEND Act, which calls for US leadership in supporting Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait) to form a joint air and missile defense against Iran. The Biden administration will also visit Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority from July 13-16. His visit to Saudi Arabia will include a “GCC+3” summit that would reportedly include the leaders of Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and the members of the GCC.

But this grand summit faces some serious challenges. While the UAE and Bahrain are already coordinating with Israel on defense, the other GCC countries plus Iraq are quite far from such a possibility. And Saudi Arabian normalization with Israel is the Biden administration’s diplomatic breakthrough to lose.

Iraq seems far from any reconciliation with Israel. Iraq recently made it illegal for Iraqi citizens to have any ties with the Jewish State, a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment. The law is so egregious that even the State Department condemned it.

Kuwait continues to express outright hostility to Israel. Yes, it is refreshing to hear that a Kuwaiti editorial supported normalization with Israel and bashed the Palestinians, calling for the Gulf States to cut off aid to the latter. But Kuwait has shown little signs of changing its actual policy towards Israel. Kuwait recently banned maritime shipping between Israel and Kuwait, as well as the film Death on the Nile because it featured Israeli actress Gal Gadot.

Qatar is a long way away from joining the Abraham Accords, and any defense agreement that would involve Israel. In a welcomed diplomatic step, Qatar will allow Israelis to visit the country using Israeli passports to attend the FIFA World Cup. Israel will also propose an arrangement with Qatar where Israel would have direct flights to the country for the World Cup. While these are welcome developments, Qatar must abandon significant hostility to Israel like its support for jihadist groups and state-sponsored anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism before it can join any broader defense agreement with the Jewish State.

While Oman has clandestine ties with Israel, it has stated numerous times that it will not join the Abraham Accords. While warm to Israel, it also has a strong relationship with Iran which includes military cooperation. So, Oman joining a defense pact against Iran seems absurd.

The most likely country to join Israel, UAE and Bahrain in a defense pact against Iran would be Saudi Arabia, who has to its credit moved incrementally closer to normalization with Israel. US and Israel are reportedly in the midst of helping to broker the transfer of strategic islands in the Red Sea from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. Both US National Security Council Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk and State Department energy envoy Amos Hochstein were recently in Riyadh to help broker this deal. According to Axios, the Biden administration seeks to clinch a deal between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel on these islands before the GCC+3 summit. The deal would also serve a two-fold purpose: 1) to advance normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel; and 2) to improve US-Saudi relations that have long been antagonized by the Biden administration’s anti-Saudi policies. Israel wants security arrangements regarding the islands, as well as access to Saudi airspace to Asia, in addition to direct flights for those seeking pilgrimages from Tel Aviv to Mecca and Medina. Saudi Arabia currently grants Israel limited access to its airspace for flights to the UAE and Bahrain.

And as the Wall Street Journal has reported, there have been a growing number of secret business and security discussions between the two countries. According to an Israeli newspaper Globes, “dozens” of Israeli businessmen recently traveled to Saudi Arabia using special visas and their Israeli passports. This report further alleges that Israeli businessmen have been travelling to Riyadh and the future location of Neom, a planned hi-tech city, for months. The Globes article further mentions that Israelis and Saudis have already signed “a number of agreements” which each other, “including a multi-million dollar deal in the agriculture tech sector and a second deal for an Israeli water tech solution.”

The greatest hope for a broader Gulf defense agreement with Israel against Iran would be if Saudi Arabia joins the UAE and Bahrain in normalizing ties with Israel, with one or more countries following suit. Israel and Saudi Arabia have made strides towards normalization. But the Biden administration must follow its shuttle diplomacy with reversals of numerous counter-productive anti-Saudi policies. It must climb down the tree it planted when it accused MBS or orchestrating Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, without presenting hard evidence and ignoring Khashoggi’s checkered past. And it must support Saudi Arabia in its war against Iran’s proxies, the Houthi terrorists in Yemen. Only when America reconciles with Saudi Arabia can the region see a broadening of the Abraham Accords.

NOTE: Due to an editorial error an earlier draft of this story was posted, it is now updated. 

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