REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- Despite Congress’ unhappiness with the Palestinian leadership, top appropriators have agreed to continue funding the Palestinian Authority provided that it does not press any further with its campaign to win more diplomatic recognition at the United Nations.
An appropriations bill for the coming fiscal year that was released this week by House Republicans would allow a continuation of aid as long as the Palestinian Authority does not join any more U.N. organizations in its bid to increase its global diplomatic standing.
The decision appears to be a sign that key lawmakers have decided that cutting off U.S. aid would severely strain the aid-dependent government and undermine Palestinian moderates while bolstering extremists.
Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, said the decision reflected the consensus view of appropriators in both parties and both the House and Senate.
Lawmakers have been threatening an aid cutoff since spring, when Palestinian officials, frustrated by a lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, said they were considering asking the U.N. to grant them a higher diplomatic standing. They hoped that such standing would give them greater leverage in negotiations and in pursuing their case for an independent Palestinian state.
Israel has objected to that approach as an end run around negotiations.
The Palestinian Authority has already been granted membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, a move that forced a cutoff of U.S. funds to the group.
The appropriations bill won’t penalize the Palestinian Authority for joining UNESCO. But aid would be cut off if the Palestinians joined another U.N. group. Officials noted that funds could still be provided under a waiver from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saying aid continuation was in the national interest of the United States.
Robert Danin, a former U.S. official in the Middle East, said the appropriators’ move appears to reflect their judgment that although the threat of a cutoff might help persuade the Palestinians to stop their U.N. strategy, “it’s a more potent tool when it’s threatened than when it’s actually carried out.”
Danin, who has spoken to Israeli and Palestinian officials in recent days, said Palestinian officials have been deeply concerned about the prospective loss of the U.S. aid, which would probably amount to about $400 million. Nevertheless, he said that because of domestic political pressures, the Palestinians may continue with their campaign for greater standing in the U.N.
He speculated that the Israeli government would probably support this approach by Congress.
"At this point, I think Israel also has a recognition that cutting off the assistance would not be in their interests, as well,” said Danin, now with the Council on Foreign Relations.
J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, hailed the confereees’ decision.
“Given how U.S. assistance to the PA[Palestinian Authority] has always flowed through a labyrinth of conditions and waivers, this is a promising outcome for those seeking to address the complex security challenges facing Israel,” said Dylan Williams, J Street’s director of government affairs.
-- Paul Richter