U.S. Unblocks Aid to Palestinian Authority

March 24, 2012  

Two Republicans in the House of Representatives have released restrictions on the disbursement of U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority that have been blocked in Congress, CNN reported.

U.S. aid to the PA was frozen after the entity unilaterally turned to the United Nations and asked for recognition of a Palestinian state.

According to the CNN report, Rep. Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, said she was releasing a hold on all of the $147 million in congressionally appropriated money for the PA. House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen only partially lifted her block for more than half of the funds to be sent.

“In many ways, there is more uncertainty now than there was a year ago. Peace and stability in the Palestinian Territories could not be more critical at this moment,” Granger was quoted as having said in a written statement on Friday. “I have taken a strong position on aid to the (Palestinian Authority) to send a message that seeking statehood at the United Nations, forming a unity government with Hamas and walking away from the negotiating table with Israel were not pathways to peace.”

Granger noted she decided to release her hold for humanitarian reasons and to help increase stability in the area controlled by the PA.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and USAID Administrator Raj Shah that she was only partially lifting her blockage of $88.6 million in assistance.

Ros-Lehtinen said she would not object to the disbursement so long as the funds were not used for assistance and recovery in Hamas-controlled Gaza and road construction projects in the PA-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria, except those directly related to security and projects with permits from Israel.

She added that she also objected to the funds’ use in trade facilitation, tourism promotion and office refurbishment or improvements to PA agencies and ministries.

In her letter, Ros-Lehtinen cited the role of Hamas and its control of Gaza as reasons for not releasing the remaining $58.6 million appropriated to the PA.

She wrote, “I am particularly concerned with the $26.4 million that the administration seeks to provide for ‘Gaza Assistance and Recovery.’ Just a week after the recent rocket attacks against Israel, the Administration is pressuring Congress to provide resources and funding for Gaza that allows Hamas the flexibility necessary to continue its rule over the area. Programming, like funding is fungible, and allows Hamas and other extremists to utilize their resources to continue their efforts against the United States and Israel. That is why I am not releasing the hold on funds for this component.”

The release of the aid comes just one week after PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said that his government would reduce expenses if donor countries fail to pay aid they pledged to the PA.

The International Monetary Fund released a report last week, which estimated a financing gap of about $500 million.

The IMF said the PA economy had entered a “difficult phase”, with a severe liquidity crunch worsening since last year due to a drop in aid from Western backers and wealthy Gulf states and Israeli restrictions on trade.

Most of the aid to the PA comes from the United States, the European Union and Arab nations, allowing the Palestinian Authority to pay the salaries of public workers and benefits.

A recent World Bank report said the PA is undergoing a financial crisis and also admitted that it was primarily due to the lack of donor countries fulfilling their pledges to fork over billions of dollars to Ramallah.

Fayyad warned several months ago that the Palestinian Authority may soon fail financially and cease to exist.

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