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USAID defends funding Palestinian groups

U.S. Agency for International Development officials have vigorously defended the agency’s record in vetting Palestinian groups to prevent funds from going to organizations that support or promote terrorist causes.
An Israeli watchdog group last week released a study charging that weaknesses in current U.S. law have allowed USAID money to be channeled to suspect groups. The Washington Times reported last week that lawmakers in both houses of Congress have begun efforts to amend the law governing aid policies in response to the study.
But James Kunder, USAID deputy assistant administrator for Asia and the Near East, said in an interview his agency carefully screens Palestinian applicants and their projects, even going beyond the statutory requirements to ensure against funding terrorist organizations or their supporters.
“There is a full vetting not only by USAID, but by the State Department and our colleagues in U.S. intelligence of any Palestinian group we work with to make sure there is absolutely no link to terrorism,” Mr. Kunder said.
USAID officials say they also conduct annual audits to make sure no taxpayer money is diverted to Palestinian terrorist groups or individuals.
In addition, groups that refuse to sign a mandatory antiterrorism certification as a number of Palestinian organizations have recently done are denied funding, Mr. Kunder said.
Mr. Kunder acknowledged that the agency made a “mistake” in its grant for the new Salah Khalaf Recreation and Sports Center in the West Bank village of al-Fara’a, named for the man considered the spiritual godfather of the Palestinian terrorist Black September organization.
The U.S. charity Save the Children received the USAID grant to help build the center.
“That was a mistake; we should have checked it better,” Mr. Kunder said. “We will be demanding on behalf of the U.S. government that the name of the center be changed.”
Palestinian Media Watch, the Israeli watchdog group, released a study Wednesday detailing what it said were four “loopholes” in U.S. law that permit aid dollars to be channeled to groups promoting Palestinian terrorists or their supporters.
The report did not say that USAID projects in Palestinian areas violated the law, but that the law itself was flawed in a number of key respects.
The study cited the Salah Khalaf incident as well as USAID project grants to the Gaza City Council, which has named streets after Palestinian “martyrs” who carried out suicide attacks in Israel and has bought space in local newspapers for vicious anti-Israeli propaganda.
The report also argued that USAID funds to municipalities and to university students in the form of grants freed up other funds at these institutions that have been used to promote Palestinian terrorist causes.
Palestinian universities, for example, routinely have official student organizations run by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both considered terrorist organizations by the State Department.
USAID officials say that agency funding to Palestinian universities is limited to a single tuition funding support program for 312 lower-income students and short-term contracts with individual professors for consulting studies on agency programs.
Mr. Kunder said the “fungibility” argument that money given to any organization frees up other funds for suspect purposes could be made about any aid project anywhere in the world.
“By and large, we maintain very careful oversight of our projects because we don’t want to see any kind of diversion,” he said.