Lawmakers release $88.6 million in Palestinian aid

AP News
Posted: Mar 23, 2012 6:47 PM
Lawmakers release $88.6 million in Palestinian aid

The Palestinians will receive $88.6 million in U.S. developmental aid, more than half the assistance that has been on hold for six months, after top House Republicans dropped their opposition.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, said Friday she would allow all of the $147 million to flow, arguing that peace and stability were critical in the Palestinian territories amid the overall unrest in the Middle East. But Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter to the State Department saying she would not allow more than $88.6 million and would keep her hold on the remaining $58.6 million.

In a sharply worded letter, Ros-Lehtinen made clear that the legislative branch has the power to expend funds _ and stop them in midcourse.

She said the money could be spent with the understanding that they are not used for assistance and recovery in Hamas-controlled Gaza; road construction projects in the West Bank, except if directly related to security and projects with permits from Israel in other areas; and trade facilitation, tourism promotion, scholarships for Palestinian students and other aid for the Palestinian Authority agencies and ministries.

Ros-Lehtinen said she will continue to block the $58.6 million because part of the money is for Gaza assistance and recovery.

"Just a week after the recent rocket attacks against Israel, the administration is pressuring Congress to provide resources and funding for Gaza that allows Hamas the flexibility necessary to continue its rule over the area," she wrote, arguing the money could be used by Hamas and other extremists.

The Republican lawmaker also criticized the administration for its pressure on the issue.

"I am disappointed that the administration would employ hardball tactics against Congress and threaten to send, over congressional objections, U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Palestinian Authority," Ros-Lehtinen wrote. "I hope this is an isolated incident and that we continue the otherwise productive relationship between the committee, the State Department and (the United States Agency for International Development)."

Last summer, Granger and Ros-Lehtinen had placed a hold on the funds in response to the Palestinians push for statehood at the United Nations. The Obama administration and Congress opposed that move, arguing that any recognition should come through a peace treaty with Israel.

But the administration and even Israel have pressured lawmakers to free up the assistance. In an interview with The Associated Press last year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the administration has reached out to Israel _ which has an interest in maintaining Palestinian security aid _ to convince Congress to support assistance.

"We're asking the Israelis on a case-by-case basis," she said.

Last November, Ros-Lehtinen lifted her hold on millions in economic support funds for the Palestinian Security Forces and other assistance.

The Palestinians have received about $500 million a year from the U.S. alone in recent years, including tens of millions of dollars for training the Palestinian security services.

In a statement, Granger said she had taken "a strong position on aid to the Palestinian Authority to send a message that seeking statehood at the United Nations, forming a unity government with Hamas and walking away from the negotiating table with Israel were not pathways to peace. Right now it is in our interest _ and the interest of our allies in the region _ to allow aid to flow to address security and humanitarian concerns."