(photo credit: AP)
The US Congress is due to be briefed Thursday on the Bush administration's allocation of $86 million to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's security forces.
Though Congress could raise objections to the funding, it isn't expected to challenge the aid, billed by the White House as money "exclusively for non-lethal supplies and training."
The release of funds comes just days before Friday's Quartet meeting in Washington between the US, EU, UN and Russia. The subject of international funding for the PA, which the Quartet decided to freeze after the election of Hamas, is expected to be a key agenda item.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice would also use the opportunity to look "forward to what it is that she hopes to achieve in the coming meetings with Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert and [Chairman] Abbas, as well as her other stops in the region" in her return visit in the coming weeks.
A State Department official dismissed accusations that the $86m. is intended to help Abbas's Fatah party in its struggle with Hamas, which lashed out at the funding.
Israel, however, didn't publicly oppose the move.
"Israel supports international efforts to help moderate Palestinians," said David Siegel, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
"The purpose of this support is straightforward, to help improve public order in the Palestinian territories. Polls show an overwhelming majority of Palestinians themselves support this goal," the State Department official said.
He detailed the breakdown of the funds as a $73m. allocation for training and non-lethal equipment and $10m. to be used for "physical security" and infrastructure improvements on the Palestinian side of the Karni border crossing.
"No cash aid will be provided to the Palestinian Authority," he said, stressing that it would take several months for the equipment to arrive and training to start.
One official with a pro-Israel organization said that he didn't expect the move to be met with much opposition.
"People understand when the administration says there's a need to help [Mahmoud Abbas] and build up his forces. That doesn't mean there's an absence of concern that some of the money would be misused, or that some of the money would get to the wrong people."
He added that, "There's a significant amount of concern that Hamas continues to strengthen itself by smuggling large number of weapons and money into the Gaza Strip, and that Abbas needs to strengthen his organization to take on Hamas down the line."
Americans for Peace Now spokesman Ori Nir praised the Bush administration for releasing funds to the politically weak Abbas, saying, "While we support efforts to strengthen moderate Palestinian forces in the West Bank and Gaza, we very much hope that this is part of a broader Bush administration strategy to revitalize the political process."
Shoshana Bryen of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, however, slammed the funding, saying it sent the wrong message a day after Fatah forces claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Eilat.
She also criticized the US for taking sides in what could be an evolving civil war with virtually no public debate.
"If they're having a civil war, providing money to one side or the other means we have taken sides in the civil war and I think that requires some discussion," Bryen said.