Obama and PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas meet in Washington in 2014
Obama and PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas meet in Washington in 2014 Reuters

Former U.S. President Barack Obama defied Republican opposition and quietly released $221 million to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the final hours of his administration, officials told The Associated Press on Monday.

Republican members of Congress had been holding up the money to the PA, but a State Department official and several congressional aides said the outgoing administration formally notified Congress it would spend the money Friday morning, just before Donald Trump became president.

More than $227 million in foreign affairs funding was released at the time, including $4 million for climate change programs and $1.25 million for UN organizations, according to AP.

The Obama administration had for some time been pressing for the release of the money for the Palestinian Authority, which comes from the U.S. Agency for International Development and is to be used for humanitarian aid in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, to support political and security reforms as well as help prepare for good governance and the rule of law in a future Palestinian state, according to the notification sent to Congress quoted by the news agency.

The official and the aides spoke to AP on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Last March it was reported that members of Congress were delaying a payment of $159 million in aid allocated for the PA in an effort to pressure the PA to relaunch negotiations with Israel.

That was not the first time that the United States’ aid to the PA has made headlines in recent years. Washington has several times cut – and subsequently resumed – the financial aid to the PA.

Previously, this issue made headlines was when the PA unilaterally applied to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Obama administration indicated at the time it was reviewing its annual $440 million aid package to the PA because of the decision.

Republican Senator Rand Paul later introduced a bill that would immediately halt aid to the PA until it halts its effort to join the ICC.

In September of 2011, a $192 million aid package was frozen by Congress after the PA submitted a failed unilateral bid for United Nations membership.

In April of 2012, Obama bypassed a Congress block and signed a waiver declaring that aid to the Palestinian Authority is “important to the security interests of the United States.