The Cable

Fight over aid to Palestinian Authority heating up

A group of House lawmakers is making the case for continuing U.S. support to the Palestinian Authority (PA), despite the Palestinian bid to seek full membership in the United Nations.

"Maintaining U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority is in the essential strategic interest of Israel and the United States," wrote 44 lawmakers, all Democrats, in a letter today to House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee heads Kay Granger (R-TX) and Nita Lowey (D-NY). The letter was spearheaded by Reps. David Price (D-NC) and Peter Welch (D-VT).

Ever since the Palestinians began their statehood drive this summer, Congress has been attacking the $550 million of annual aid given to the PA by U.S. taxpayers. For fiscal 2011, Congress had already provided the Palestinians with about $150 million in direct budget support -- also known as cash -- but $200 million in security funding and about $200 million in humanitarian funding has been held up.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL ) released her hold on the security funding last week, but she and Granger are still holding up the non-security funding. Also, Congress is set to consider whether to allocate a whole new tranche of aid to the PA as part of the upcoming negotiations over the fiscal 2012 State and foreign ops spending bill. That bill could come up in the Senate this week or next, leading to a House-Senate conference behind closed doors to iron out a final compromise bill.

"We understand the developments that have led some to call for a suspension or termination of aid to the PA," the 44 lawmakers wrote. "However, these legitimate concerns must be weighed against the essential role that U.S. assistance to the PA plays in providing security and stability for Palestinians and Israelis as well as critical humanitarian relief to the Palestinian people - and the potential consequences if this assistance is terminated."

Currently, the House version of next year's foreign aid bill would terminate all aid to the PA unless the Palestinian government drops its statehood bid at the United Nations and enters into direct negotiations with Israel. The Senate version is less strict; it would only withdraw the funding if the Palestinians actually succeed in joining the United Nations, which isn't likely due to the U.S. veto power at the Security Council. The Senate bill would also give the president a waiver over cutting aid to the PA.

"The prospect of continued assistance depends on the actions of Palestinian leadership, which can choose to pursue a path of direct negotiations rather than a counterproductive and destabilizing push for statehood through the UN and affiliated agencies," Matthew Dennis, spokesperson for Lowey, told The Cable.

"The chairwoman takes the views of all members into consideration," said Matt Leffingwell, spokesman for Granger.

President Barack Obama's administration has been clear that it wants U.S. aid to the PA to continue, because the assistance impacts Israeli security. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee, told The Cable last week that he agrees that aid to the PA is important but will fight to end it anyway because of the politics surrounding the issue.

"I don't think that's in our near-term or long-term interest, but that's what's going to happen, that's where this thing is headed," Graham said.

The Democratic lawmakers who are making the case for the aid, along with some non-governmental organizations such as J Street, want to make sure top appropriators know that there is some support for aid to the Palestinians in Congress.

"The Price-Welch letter puts down a marker that there is a difference of opinion on whether aid to the PA should continue in Congress," Dylan Williams, J Street's director of government affairs, told The Cable today.

Williams said that many of the letter's signers supported House Resolution 268, passed in June, which threatened to cut off aid to the PA if it continued to seek U.N. membership. But seeing as how the Palestinians were able to join UNESCO with overwhelming international support, forcing the United States to stop contributing to that organization, he said those threats no longer makes sense.

"The situation has changed since HRes 268 and the bid to keep the Palestinians away from the United Nations has failed," Williams said.

The Cable

Exclusive: Mullen denies secret back channel in U.S.-Pakistan relationship

On Oct. 10, Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz dropped a bombshell: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, he alleged, had offered to replace Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership and cut ties with militant groups in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing in Abbottabad.

Ijaz also alleged in his op-ed in the Financial Times that Zardari communicated this offer by sending a top secret memo on May 10 through Ijaz himself, to be hand-delivered to Adm. Michael Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a key official managing the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The details of the memo and the machinations Ijaz describes paint a picture of a Zardari government scrambling to save itself from an impending military coup following the raid on bin Laden's compound, and asking for U.S. support to prevent that coup before it started.

Mullen, now retired, denied this week having ever dealt with Ijaz in comments given to The Cable through his spokesman at the time, Capt. John Kirby.

"Adm. Mullen does not know Mr. Ijaz and has no recollection of receiving any correspondence from him," Kirby told The Cable. "I cannot say definitively that correspondence did not come from him -- the admiral received many missives as chairman from many people every day, some official, some not. But he does not recall one from this individual. And in any case, he did not take any action with respect to our relationship with Pakistan based on any such correspondence ... preferring to work at the relationship directly through [Pakistani Army Chief of Staff] Gen. [Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani and inside the interagency process."

Mullen's denial represents the first official U.S. comment on the Ijaz memo, which since Oct. 10 has mushroomed into a huge controversy in Pakistan. Several parts of Pakistan's civilian government denied that Ijaz's memorandum ever existed. On Oct. 30, Zardari spokesman Farhatullah Babar called Ijaz's op-ed a "fantasy article" and criticized the FT for running it in the first place.

"Mansoor Ijaz's allegation is nothing more than a desperate bid by an individual, whom recognition and credibility has eluded, to seek media attention through concocted stories," Babar said. "Why would the president of Pakistan choose a private person of questionable credentials to carry a letter to U.S. officials? Since when Mansoor has become a courier of messages of the president of Pakistan?"

On Oct. 31, Ijaz issued a long statement doubling down on his claims and threatened to reveal the "senior Pakistani official" that purportedly sent him on his mission. Ijaz quoted Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, telling Zardari and his staff, "If you stop telling lies about me, I might just stop telling the truth about you."

The Pakistani press has given credence to Ijaz's story because it was published in the Financial Times. "The FT is not likely to publish something which it cannot substantiate if it was so required, so any number of denials and clarifications by our diplomats or the presidency will only be for domestic consumption and would mean nothing," wrote one prominent Pakistani commentator.

This is only the latest time that Ijaz has raised controversy concerning his alleged role as a secret international diplomat. In 1996, he was accused of trying to extort money from the Pakistani government in exchange for delivering votes in the U.S. House of Representatives on a Pakistan-related trade provision.

Ijaz, who runs the firm Crescent Investment Management LLC in New York, has been an interlocutor between U.S. officials and foreign government for years, amid constant accusations of financial conflicts of interest. He reportedly arranged meetings between U.S. officials and former Pakistani Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

He also reportedly gave over $1 million to Democratic politicians in the 1990s and attended Christmas events at former President Bill Clinton's White House. Ijaz has ties to former CIA Director James Woolsey and his investment firm partner is Reagan administration official James Alan Abrahamson.

In the mid-1990s, Ijaz traveled to Sudan several times and claimed to be relaying messages from the Sudanese regime to the Clinton administration regarding intelligence on bin Laden, who was living there at the time. Ijaz has claimed that his work gave the United States a chance to kill the al Qaeda leader but that the Clinton administration dropped the ball. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, who served under Clinton, has called Ijaz's allegations "ludicrous and irresponsible."

Then Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice, now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has previously acknowledged that Ijaz brought the Clinton administration offers of counterterrorism cooperation from Sudan but said that actual cooperation never materialized.

So why is Ijaz's story so popular in Pakistan, despite his long history of antagonizing the Pakistani government with such claims? According to Mehreen Zahra-Malik, who wrote about the Ijaz scandal on Oct. 29 in Pakistan's The News, it's all part of the culture of secrecy and conspiracy in Pakistani politics that the current civilian and military leadership in Islamabad has only continued to foster.

"When secrecy and conspiracy are part of the very system of government, a vicious cycle develops. Because truth is abhorrent, it must be concealed, and because it is concealed, it becomes ever more abhorrent. Having power then becomes about the very concealment of truth, and covering up the truth becomes the very imperative of power -- and the powerful," she wrote. "The end result: a population raised on a diet of conspiracy."

Attempts to reach Ijaz for comment were unsuccessful.

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