Jun 25, 2023 - World

Biden admin reverses Trump policy that allowed funding to research in Israeli settlements

Biden and Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem in March 2016. Photo: Debbie Hill/AFP via Getty Images

Biden and Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem in March 2016. Photo: Debbie Hill/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration notified Israel two weeks ago that it was reimposing a ban that prohibits U.S. taxpayer funding from being used in any research and development or scientific cooperation projects conducted in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, according to three U.S. and Israeli officials.

Why it matters: The Biden administration’s decision reverses a Trump administration policy from late 2020 that allowed U.S. taxpayer funding to be used for science and technology projects in the settlements for the first time since 1967.

Flashback: The Trump administration rolled back the ban in late October 2020, just a few weeks before the U.S. presidential elections.

  • The ban had impacted three U.S.-Israeli scientific cooperation foundations, which were barred from conducting any projects in the settlements that received U.S. taxpayer funding.
  • Since they were formed in the 1970s, the foundations invested about $1.5 billion in research and development institutions inside Israel.

Behind the scenes: The State Department decided to reverse the Trump-era policy not long after President Biden assumed office, but it didn't need to take any steps to implement the ban until recently, according to a source briefed on the issue.

  • After researchers from an institute in the settlements applied for a grant from one of the foundations, the State Department told other U.S. government agencies and the Israeli government that it was reverting to the pre-2020 policy of limiting U.S. support for the activities of the three foundations.

What they are saying: “The Department of State recently circulated foreign policy guidance to relevant agencies advising that engaging in bilateral scientific and technological cooperation with Israel" in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights “is inconsistent with U.S. foreign policy,” a State Department spokesperson told Axios.

  • The spokesperson said that the U.S. "strongly values scientific and technological cooperation" with Israel and such cooperation continues.
  • "This guidance is simply reflective of the longstanding U.S. position ... that the ultimate disposition of the geographic areas which came under the administration of Israel after June 5, 1967 is a final status matter and that we are working towards a negotiated two-state solution in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state," the spokesperson added.
  • The Israeli embassy in Washington declined to comment.

The big picture: Consecutive Israeli governments have approved new building in the settlements, despite U.S. and other international pressure not to do so.

  • The Israeli government committee that approves new planning and building in the settlements is expected to convene on Monday to approve about 4,500 new housing units in the settlements in the West Bank.
  • Much of the international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal under international law.
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