Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced Senate Resolution 171 on April 18, 2019 call on the administration to restore U.S. assistance to civilians in the West Bank and Gaza. Joined by five co-sponsors, S Res 171 also calls on Congress to clarify provisions of the 2018 Antiterrorism Clarification Act (ATCA) so that acceptance for funds for food and essential humanitarian services cannot be used to trigger jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority for ATCA lawsuits in U.S. courts. A statement from 18 organizations, including the Charity & Security Network, supports the resolution and release of the funds.
A statement from Sen. Merkley notes that the resolution is necessary because the Trump administration has frozen spending of funds appropriated by Congress for aid to Palestinians. In January 2018 the administration undertook a review of the funding, including security assistance and Economic Support Funds (humanitarian assistance distributed by NGOs). In July 2018 the administration redirected FY 2017 funds to other countries and FY 3018 funds remain frozen. S Res. 171 calls for release of the funds by the end of 2019. $196,500,000 in FY 2018 Economic Support Funds are at stake.
S. Res. 171 also addresses additional problems created by ATCA. Signed into law in late 2018, ATCA is intended to allow victims of terrorism to sue foreign entities that accept U.S. foreign assistance or maintain a headquarters in the U.S. Fearing exposure to liability, the Palestinian Authority announced it would reject further U.S. funding, with the result that all U.S. aid programs in Palestine ceased. Under the policy proposed by S. Res. 171, Congress would amend ATCA to clarify that Economic Support Fund acceptance of funds for programs that comply with the Taylor Force Act (prohibiting support for those convicted of terrorism offenses and their families) will not be a basis for jurisdiction in U.S. courts.
The co-sponsors of S. Res. 171 are Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Catherin Cortez-Masto (D-NV) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA).
Nonprofits supporting the resolution include the Alliance for Peacebuilding, InterAction, Catholic Relief Services, Charity & Security Network, Mercy Corps and many faith-based organizations.