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(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
WASHINGTON – Members of Congress are warning that American funding of the
Palestinian Authority could be threatened by efforts to advance a unilateral
declaration of statehood.
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“Pursuing a non-negotiated path to statehood is
a fool’s errand. Palestinians want a state, not a declaration. Their only way to
achieve that is through direct negotiations with Israel,” California Democrat
Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The
Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“If they try to circumvent negotiations,
they’ll lose the support of a lot of people like me, and it will jeopardize
their foreign aid as well,” he said.
Berman’s concerns are shared by
Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is currently the committee’s ranking
member and will take over its stewardship when the GOP assumes control of the
House in January.
“The ranking member has long said that US assistance to
the PA should be conditioned on the PA living up to its obligations to stop
violence against Israel and recognize Israel’s right to exist as a democratic,
Jewish state, among others that it has demonstrably failed to live up to,”
Ros-Lehtinen spokesman Brad Goehner said. “These unilateral efforts serve to
undermine the prospects that those obligations might finally be
Members of the US House of Representatives are also circulating
resolutions criticizing any Palestinian move toward a unilateral declaration of
While Ros-Lehtinen has co-sponsored a resolution “reaffirming
congressional opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state,”
Capitol Hill sources said Berman will be introducing a new resolution by the end
of the week to strengthen the point.
The congressional opposition to a
possible unilateral declaration, which certain Palestinian leaders have
threatened to put before the UN, has been intensified in the wake of Brazil and
Argentina recognizing a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 lines in recent
It also comes as Republicans are soon to take over the House, with
an agenda of cutting spending and reducing the US federal budget. Aid to the PA
had already been seen as vulnerable, but having Democrats also criticize the PA
highlights the fragility of the funding.
At the same time, with peace
talks foundering, the US has indicated its intentions to redouble its efforts to
assist Palestinian state-building as one of the major prongs of its new policy
aimed at reigniting talks.
“The United States is continuing our efforts
to support this important work,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed at
the Saban Forum on Friday night, referring to Palestinian state- and
institution-building led by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The Obama
administration has asked Congress to approve $200 million in funding for the PA
Doing so would mean continued funding from Congress, if not
increasing the amount. That reality also sobers some legislators who oppose
unilateral PA actions but would like to further the American
“Entirely cutting aid to the Palestinians is not helpful to the
peace process, even if it’s politically expedient,” said one aide to a
Democratic member of Congress on the foreign operations appropriations
subcommittee, suggesting that members will be mindful of that reality. “But the
Palestinians have to understand there’s going to be a cost for these reckless
He suggested that conditioning the aid on
Palestinian rejection of a unilateral course was a middle ground that might
satisfy many House members.
Ghaith al-Omari, the director of advocacy for
the American Task Force on Palestine, ruled out unilateralism as an effective
means to statehood for Palestinians, and said members of Congress should look at
what’s happening on the ground in terms of Fayyad’s work when deciding whether
to cut off funding.
“We should weigh the advantages being created for
Israel and the United States by the security and political developments [in the
West Bank] and the actions of the prime minister [Fayyad] himself, and not
punish him and his project for the behavior of some irresponsible Palestinian
politicians,” Omari said.