GOP lawmaker ends hold on some aid to Palestinians

AP News
Posted: Nov 07, 2011 5:22 PM
GOP lawmaker ends hold on some aid to Palestinians

The Palestinians are slated to receive some $200 million in U.S. security assistance after a top House Republican stopped blocking the money.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, informed the Obama administration in recent weeks that she no longer would block $50 million in economic support funds for the Palestinian Security Forces and $148 million in other assistance.

In separate letters to the State Department and USAID, Ros-Lehtinen cited certification by President Barack Obama that the aid was in the national security interests of the United States, as well as word that the government of Israel did not object. The letters were sent in September and October.

In an interview with The Associated Press last month, 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.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she wasn't aware of Ros-Lehtinen's decision, but "if in fact the hold has been lifted, that is something we'd be most gratified by."

Nuland said the administration has worked hard with members of Congress to explain why the money is important.

"Israeli officials have the same interests that we have in ensuring that we can all support stability in the Palestinian territories," she told reporters.

Ros-Lehtinen had blocked the funds in late August, just as the Palestinians were gearing up to seek statehood recognition at the United Nations. The Florida lawmaker placed an "informational hold" on the money, seeking material from the administration. The Palestinians pursued statehood recognition despite strong objections from the United States and Israel.

The Florida lawmaker is still blocking about $192 million for the Palestinians that typically is used for infrastructure and other projects.

Brad Goehner, a spokesman for the committee, said Monday that the administration had provided the panel with some 1,000 pages of documents.

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. The partial suspension of aid by Congress had mainly affected development and infrastructure programs being supervised by USAID, but not the support for the security services.

The United States recently stopped $60 million in aid to UNESCO after the international organization admitted the Palestinians as a member. Ros-Lehtinen stands firm on that issue, saying recently that she supports the U.S. law that requires a cutoff of American funds to any U.N. entity that gives membership to the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

"That is the right policy, and it must continue in order to deter other U.N. entities from following in UNESCO's footsteps," Ros-Lehtinen said.


Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.