The Cable

House leaders to Palestine: seek U.N. recognition, forget foreign aid

The top Republican and Democrat foreign aid leaders in the House of Representatives are warning the Palestinian Authority (PA) that U.S. aid will be withheld if the Palestinians seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations in September.

"We write to reiterate our serious concerns about your intentions to pursue recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations," reads a July 11 letter sent to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas by the leaders of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee Kay Granger (R-TX) and Nita Lowey (D-NY), obtained by The Cable.

"It has been the longstanding belief of the United States government that the path to a true and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis will come only as a result of direct negotiations. We write to reaffirm that belief and warn of the severe consequences of abandoning it."

The Obama administration has been clear that it doesn't support the Palestinian plan to seek a vote on statehood at the United Nations in September, but it so far hasn't spelled out any consequences for the Palestinians if they should choose to do so. Congress, on the other hand, is doing a lot to make those consequences known. On July 7, the House passed a resolution opposing the statehood plan by a 407-6 vote. The Senate passed the same resolution unanimously.

In May, 29 senators promised to cut off all U.S. assistance to the PA if it formed a unity government with Hamas. The United States gave the PA about $550 million in aid in fiscal 2011, a mixture of project funding and direct cash to the government.

The head of the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in Washington, Maen Rashid Areikat, told The Cable in May that the plan to seek recognition at the United Nations was not final and could be scuttled if negotiations resume. He also said that the unity government would not change its policies regarding the peace process at least until Palestinian legislative and presidential elections, which are tentatively scheduled for May 2012.

The House plans to mark up its fiscal 2012 appropriations bill on July 27, and several foreign aid accounts are under scrutiny. And following the apparently fruitless meeting this week of the Quartet members here in Washington, the path back to direct negotiations remains unclear -- a fact that will only further endanger U.S. assistance to the PA.

Already, Congress has been taking a harder look at funding for the Palestinian territories. Multiple Hill sources said that a recent routine request for program funding for USAID staffers vetting Palestinian aid projects was held up by the House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) for weeks before finally getting approval.

"American assistance has always been predicated upon Palestinian leaders' commitment to resolve all outstanding issues through direct negotiations," the congresswomen wrote. "Current and future aid will be jeopardized if you abandon direct negotiations and continue your current efforts."

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