WASHINGTON - Some American Jewish groups are worried about possible US aid cuts to the Palestinians and find themselves in the peculiar position of defending the funding, particularly money that supports Palestinian security forces.
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There is some evidence the message is being heard, despite widespread anger on Capitol Hill at Palestinian plans for a statehood drive at the United Nations.
Such aid is seen as crucial to reducing violence and to promoting security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. But the US Congress has threatened to review the roughly $500 million in annual aid to the Palestinians if they stick to plans to press their claim for statehood at the United Nations, a step opposed by Israel and the United States.
Of the $513.4 million in Palestinian aid the Obama administration has requested for the year beginning Oct. 1, $113 million would help strengthen Palestinian security forces and improve rule of law in the West Bank.
It is difficult for pro-Israel groups to publicly support maintaining
aid to the Palestinians given the Palestinians' stated determination to
flout the wishes of the United States.
But at least two groups have explicitly done so -- The Israel Project,
which says it has laid out an argument to members of Congress that US
security aid should not be cut; and J Street, which has issued a
statement defending the aid.
"We have made the case that the security cooperation, which is largely
funded and supported by America, needs to continue if we want to see the
progress ... in reducing terrorism continue," The Israel Project's
president, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, told Reuters.
J Street said last week: "We must make clear to American politicians,
particularly in Congress, that being pro-Israel does not require cutting
aid to the Palestinian Authority in retaliation for approaching the UN.
"Such a move will hurt Israel's interests by undermining moderate
Palestinian leadership and defunding productive security cooperation,"
the advocacy and lobbying group said.
Some lawmakers appear to be listening, including House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, a staunch supporter of Israel.
He said he would be willing to consider maintaining US security aid to
the Palestinians, "particularly if the Israelis felt it was important
for their security."
"There are two streams of money -- one's security and one's economic. I
think the economic (one) is at greater risk" of getting cut by Congress,
Hoyer said on Wednesday.
"We don't want to cut off security money and see a destabilizing of the
security in the West Bank that then manifests itself in terms of
violence towards the Israelis."
Republican Senator John McCain said Tuesday he would not favor a
"blanket" aid cut-off, and spoke highly of money being spent on West
Bank police training. And Senator John Kerry, the Democratic chairman of
the Foreign Relations Committee, said he would be "very, very
skeptical" of cutting aid.'The goose that lays the golden eggs'
Elliott Abrams, a former aide to US President George W. Bush now at the
Council on Foreign Relations, said "there are grave doubts about
significant cuts in aid to the Palestinian Authority" within American
"The security assistance case is more obvious because this ... has been
in our national interest and it has also helped Israel a good deal,"
"But the doubts extend to the non-security aid as well because the
question is: what will happen if the PA collapses? Won't that simply
create greater and more difficult responsibilities for Israel?"
Other analysts suggested aid cuts could not only undermine security but
also the Palestinian Authority itself and PA Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad, who has reformed its governance.
"He's the goose that lays the golden eggs. With no eggs, I don't think
he wants to stick around," said David Makovsky of the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy think tank. "That means the person who
has been the driving force of security cooperation, the driver of
institution building, he is gone."
It is not clear whether the Palestinians will seek approval for their
statehood bid at the UN Security Council, where the United States has
said it will veto it, or seek upgraded status as a "non-member state,"
which would require a simple majority of the 193-nation assembly.
Abrams and Makovsky advised Congress on Wednesday to wait and see the
content of any Palestinian UN resolution, as well as what happens after
any vote, before slashing US aid.
"Keeping some of your powder dry is probably a good idea," Abrams told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
But sentiment among lawmakers at the Wednesday hearing was
overwhelmingly in favor of cutting aid if the Palestinians persist with
their UN plans.
"Despite decades of assistance totaling billions of dollars, if a
Palestinian state were declared today, it would be neither democratic
nor peaceful nor willing to negotiate with Israel," said the panel's
chairman, Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.