WASHINGTON - The Obama administration on Wednesday called on Arab governments to resume previous levels of assistance to the Palestinians, and raised warning flags over aid cuts contemplated by US lawmakers.
State Department officials appearing before Congress emphasized the benefits of assistance to the Palestinian Authority, including a newly trained cadre of Palestinian security forces they said were boosting regional security by pursuing militants in the West Bank.
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"We will be discussing this with them (Arab states) again and urging them to at least meet the levels (of aid) that they have provided in past years so that the Palestinian Authority can continue to function," Jacob Walles, deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, told a House committee.
"I would see a cutoff of security assistance in a negative light today," said US Lieutenant General Mike Moeller, who directs the international program that has trained 4,761 Palestinian security forces since 2008.
US aid to the Palestinian Authority is running about $550 million this year, Walles said, including $150 million for the program that helps professionalize the security forces.
He said Arab aid to the Palestinian Authority was $78.5 million so far this year, down sharply from $462 million in 2009.
Because of the financial crunch, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has only been able to pay half-salaries recently, including to the security forces trained by Moeller's program, Walles said. He called the situation "very worrisome."
US lawmakers threaten to cut aid
Last week, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution threatening to cut off all aid to the Palestinians if they pursue United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state before a peace deal with Israel.
The House resolution also urged the Obama administration to consider
suspending aid to the Palestinians pending a review of a unity deal
between Fatah and Hamas.
The US Senate has already passed a similar resolution.
Walles said the Obama administration had made it clear to the
Palestinians that it did not support efforts for UN recognition of a
Palestinian state, preferring that direct peace talks resume between
Israel and the Palestinians.
Walles and Moeller also said that there had been no implementation so
far of the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas, and that Abbas'
government retains sole authority over the Palestinian security forces.
A sudden cutoff of US aid would halt efforts to train and equip those
forces just as they are starting a transition to a "self-sustainment
capability," Moeller said.
"I believe that both the Israelis and the Palestinians would see it as a
-- it may not be as strong as a breach of faith, but they certainly
would be very, very concerned that we are not continuing as their
enduring security partners in this important part of the Middle East
peace process," he said.