By Jamie Crawford
Two powerful Republicans in the House of Representatives released restrictions Friday on the disbursement of U.S. assistance to Palestinians that the congresswomen had been blocking in Congress.
Rep. Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, said she was releasing a hold that had been in place since August on all of the $147 million in congressionally appropriated money for the Palestinians. House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen 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, R-Texas, said in a written statement 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 said she decided to release her hold for humanitarian reasons and to help increase stability in the Palestinian territories.
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 West Bank except those directly related to security and projects with permits from Israel. She said she also objected to the funds' use in trade facilitation, tourism promotion and office refurbishment or improvements to Palestinian agencies and ministries.
Both Granger and Ros-Lehtinen placed holds on the money last year after the Palestinians made a push for statehood at the United Nations outside of negotiations with Israel.
The United States stopped paying its dues to the United Nations Education Science and Cultural Organization after the organization voted to admit the Palestinians as a member state.
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 Palestinians.
"I am particularly concerned with the $26.4 million that the administration seeks to provide for 'Gaza Assistance and Recovery,' " she wrote. "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 Obama administration has indicated that it has the authority to override the legislative hold on the funds since they have already been appropriated by Congress. The administration has argued that the money is needed to assist the beleaguered Palestinian economy, but it has not overridden the hold.
Ros-Lehtinen said such legislative action is necessary to ensure that congressional appropriations advance U.S. interests and do not inadvertently go where they should not.
"I am disappointed that the Administration would employ hard-ball tactics against Congress and threaten to send, over Congressional objections, U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Palestinian Authority," she wrote. "I hope this is an isolated incident and that we continue the, otherwise, productive relationship between the Committee, the State Department and USAID."
The International Monetary Fund and other organizations have warned of a greater deterioration of conditions in the Palestinian territories as a result of the financial restrictions levied by the United States and other Western governments, along with existing Israeli restrictions on the territories.