US Congress puts hold on Palestinian aid

A Ramallah crowd waves Abbas posters during his September 23 UN speech. (Flash 90)

WASHINGTON (JWN and agencies)—The US House Foreign Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, yesterday decided to hold back nearly $200 million in
humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority.

The decision, which is in opposition to the wishes of President Barack Obama, is understood to reflect congressional anger at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s unilateral bid for statehood
recognition at the UN and failure to resume direct negotiations with Israel.

Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) decided to keep the committee from considering approval of $192 million in humanitarian assistance. The money is separate from other assistance to the Palestinian Authority, some $200 million of which has already been distributed in this fiscal year’s budget for nongovernmental organizations.

The withholding of funds is the first concrete expression of congressional leaders’ threats to hold back even more funding in the coming year if Abbas pursues statehood through the UN instead of negotiating. Demands have already been made in Congress to withhold up to $600 million during the coming fiscal
year over the issue. This would total the average amount given by the US in bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza every year since 2008.

In addition, similar holds on grants to NGOs have been imposed pending the outcome of checks to ensure the NGOs were not working with terrorists. Ros-Lehtinen has recently expressed concern over a move by the Palestinian Authority to unite with Hamas, which the US, Israel, and many other countries consider to be a terrorist organization.

The Arab League called on the Arab states in the region to replace the missing US aid with their own donations. “The Arabs will assist the Palestinian Authority,” Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi said in Cairo after a meeting with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “This will be the strongest answer” to the US cuts.

Erekat said that, “The Palestinian people refuse to allow economic aid to become an instrument of blackmail regarding its rights to membership of the United Nations.”

The UN Security Council is now considering the PA’s statehood bid, which Obama has declared the
United States will veto.