Congress Mandates Increased Oversight on State’s Palestinian Affairs Office

Office of Palestinian Affairs under fire for calling on Israel to stand down hours after Hamas terror attack

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Amir Levy/Getty Images)
April 1, 2024

Congress is increasing its oversight on the State Department’s Office of Palestinian Affairs (OPA), which urged Israel to stand down and avoid "retaliatory attacks" just hours after Hamas's terror attack on the country that left 1,200 dead.

Included in Congress’s trillion-dollar spending package, which was passed last month and signed by President Joe Biden, is a provision aimed at reining in public messaging produced by the Office of Palestinian Affairs, a diplomatic office established by the Biden administration in 2022 that acts independently of the U.S. ambassador’s office in the country. When the diplomatic office was created, critics accused the State Department of trying to undermine the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.

The oversight measure requires Secretary of State Antony Blinken to issue a report to Congress every 90 days on the Palestinian Affairs Office’s funding expenditures, including its social media activity, "public diplomacy programs," and other initiatives administered by the office.

The Palestinian Affairs Office drew outrage in the immediate aftermath of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel when it issued a tweet calling on Israel to stand down from any retaliatory strikes. "We urge all sides to refrain from violence and retaliatory attacks. Terror and violence solve nothing," the office wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The message was deleted following a wave of criticism from Republican lawmakers and pro-Israel advocates who accused the Biden administration of abandoning Israel as it faced the worst terror strike in its history.

The State Department told the Washington Free Beacon at the time that the missive was erased because it "was not approved and does not represent U.S. policy."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said lawmakers will be keeping a close eye on the office as the Biden administration leans on Israel to ink a ceasefire with Hamas, walking back its initial full-throated support for the Jewish state.

"I have called for every person involved in drafting and approving the OPA tweet to be fired, but that will have to wait for an administration that isn't stacked with Israel-hating activists," Cruz told the Free Beacon. "In the meantime, Republicans will have to keep expanding oversight over the Biden administration's insanity."

Cruz said it is outrageous that "in the opening minutes of October 7, while Hamas terrorists were in the process of committing mass atrocities against over a thousand people, including dozens of Americans, the Office of Palestinian Affairs called for Israel to stand down."

Asked about the oversight measure, a State Department spokesman told the Free Beacon that it will abide by the law.

"The Department of State and its offices, including OPA, fully comply with all legislative requirements enacted by Congress," the spokesman said.

The Palestinian Affairs Office has been responsible for doling out taxpayer funds on projects with regional partners.

In October of last year, following Hamas’s attack, the Free Beacon reported that the office awarded $160,000 to a Palestinian university known to support Hamas and that praised the group’s militants as "martyrs." The grant, issued to Al-Quds University, provided funding through 2024 to "disadvantaged students" and Palestinian entrepreneurs.

In May of last year, the Palestinian Affairs Office administered a $100,000 taxpayer-funded grant program for Palestinian groups that "promote diversity, equity, inclusion." Former U.S. officials described the program as "tone deaf," since it came at a time when Palestinian terrorists were firing rockets into Israel.

The State Department defended the funding initiative, telling the Free Beacon at the time: "Our Office of Palestinian Affairs is focused on engagement with and outreach to Palestinians, including through cultural affairs grants. Investing in civil society and people-to-people ties is a critical part of diplomatic outreach and efforts to promote peace, and even more imperative at times of heightened tensions."

A senior congressional aide who works on State Department oversight issues said the Palestinian Affairs Office is just one cog in an anti-Israel machine operating within the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) Bureau.

"The Biden administration stacked NEA with vicious career activists who make The Squad look pro-Israel," said the source, who was not authorized to speak on record. "They fund pro-Hamas organizations like UNRWA and use their public platforms to spread pro-Hamas propaganda. Republicans defunded UNRWA and are going to continue scrutinizing what they're spreading publicly, and if we have to we'll defund those too."