Difficulties ahead for US aid?

Posted: November 19, 2010 by Rex Brynen in new items and opinion pieces, UNRWA, US

A few days ago, Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick published a piece attacking US funding for both the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA. As with most of her writing, the piece is unintentionally amusing in its ideological extremes: in her world-view, an illegal Israeli settlement becomes an “Israeli community located beyond the 1949 armistice lines,” while “Fayyad’s rejection of free trade principles” is Glickian for the Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness to collaborate in illegal Israeli settlement construction (universally considered by the international community as an obstacle to peace) through the purchase of settlement products.

Glick’s main point in this piece, however, was to argue for the curtailment of US assistant to both the PA and UNRWA:

The US provided the PA with $500.9 million in 2009 and, before Clinton’s announcement, was scheduled to provide it with $550 million in 2011. This assistance does not include US financial support for UNRWA, an agency devoted exclusively to providing welfare benefits to Palestinians while subordinating itself to a Palestinian political agenda. The US is the single largest donor to UNRWA. Last year the $268 million US taxpayers gave the UN agency constituted 27 percent of UNRWA’s budget.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is expected to become the chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee in the next Congress, responded negatively to Clinton’s announced expansion of US aid to the PA. In a statement released by her office last Thursday, Ros-Lehtinen derided the assistance as a “bailout.”

She further commented, “It is deeply disturbing that the administration is continuing to bail out the Palestinian leadership when they continue to fail to meet their commitments, under international agreements and requirements outlined in US law, including dismantling the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, combating corruption, stopping anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement and recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”

Ros-Lehtinen authored the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which conditioned US assistance to the PA on, among other things, “publicly acknowledge[ing] the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist.”

While on the mark, Ros-Lehtinen’s statement only scratches the surface of how contrary to US law and the goals of Palestinian economic development and peace US financial assistance to the Palestinians truly is.

Expect more of this in the future. Glick’s attack highlights the potentially greater problems that aid to the Palestinians and to UNRWA may encounter in the new US Congress, which is likely to be more critical of theWhite House’s current Middle East policy (whatever that might be). US assistance could be an easy target that also resonantes with a Republican base that favours sharp reductions in federal spending.  Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in particular has been a vehement opponent of UNRWA, proposing restrictions that would effectively prevent the agency from performing many of its key functions. As Josh Rogin has noted over at Foreign Policy Magazine blog, her accession to the Chair of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs could have substantial implications for the Obama Administration.

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