US Congress c'tee to consider cutting PA, Lebanese aid

Aid to PA on condition that Israel recognized as Jewish state, aid to Lebanon includes stipulation that no Hezbollah member serve gov't.

Joint session of the US Congress 311 (R) (photo credit: Jim Young / Reuters)
Joint session of the US Congress 311 (R)
(photo credit: Jim Young / Reuters)
WASHINGTON – A key Congressional committee will consider a foreign aid bill Wednesday that could threaten funding to the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon and would codify in law the George W. Bush letter to Ariel Sharon.
The bill, drawn up by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), would also end by 2014 the president’s ability to waive the law that requires him to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as well as mandate that official American documents list Jerusalem as part of Israel. The State Department would also have to report on its diplomatic activities on behalf of Israel to end efforts at isolating it.
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Furthermore, it conditions aid to the PA on its recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and ending all anti-Israel incitement in state-owned media, among other measures; while aid to Lebanon includes a stipulation that no member of Hezbollah serve in the government.
Currently, Hezbollah is a major force in the new coalition government, while the PA has been either unwilling, or unable, to end all incitement and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Egypt is also required to honor the peace treaty with Israel, reject members of terror groups from its governments, and detect and destroy smuggling tunnels to Gaza in order to receive aid.
The language on Israel also includes a commitment to continuing aid to Israel at the current rate of $3 billion-plus per year, with slight increases over the course of a 10-year memorandum of understanding – as well as to funding Israeli missile defense, which is allocated separately through the defense appropriations committee.
The foreign aid bill will be reviewed by Ros-Lehtinen’s committee Wednesday.
Once it passes out of the committee, it is not clear whether the bill will reach the floor of the House for a vote this fall. But even if it is approved by the full House it is likely to be dramatically changed in the Senate before being considered by the president, if it ever reaches his desk. The strict limits on aid to the Palestinians and Lebanon – as well as some of the language on Jerusalem and the Bush letter, would likely be opposed in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The current version of the pending House legislation declares that it “shall be the policy of the United States to uphold and act in accordance with all of the reassurances provided by the President in an April 14, 2004, letter to the Prime Minister of Israel.”
The letter endorsed the notion of Israel retaining major settlement blocs, and indicated that the Palestinian right of return wouldn’t materialize.
But that document has not been endorsed by the Obama administration, and Democratic allies are seen as unlikely to put into law a provision that could limit Barack Obama’s range of action in the peace process.
Democrats on the Hill also suggested that Israel itself wants to see the aid to the Palestinians and surrounding Arab countries continued as a way of improving the overall security environment.
“My impression is that Israel wants this money to go through. It’s something that Israel thinks enhances regional security so that’s something you have to consider any time you want to draw a bright red line in the sand,” said an aide to a Democratic member tracking these issues.
Another Democratic aide was more blunt when it came to funding for the PA.
“If the Israelis wanted to cut it off, Congress would cut it off before they finished their sentence,” he said, noting that if a Palestinian national unity government brings Hamas members into office both parties would want to end aid to the PA immediately.
He described the conditions imposed in the Ros-Lehtinen bill as ones that are impossible to meet.
“It’s a cut-off without a cut-off,” he said.
An Israeli official said Israel was staying neutral in the debate over the foreign-aid bill’s expenditures to its Arab neighbors.
“We are interested in a Palestinian Authority maintaining law and order, and strengthening their security forces and prospering,” he said of US funding to the PA. “If there’s no change with Hamas and Fatah [in the government], there’s no reason to change the current situation.”