Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Blog

In a final attempt to forgo a confrontation at the U.N., the Obama Administration held a closed meeting yesterday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Washington hoped to avoid a showdown at the U.N. by pressuring Abbas to submit a request for recognition for statehood without forcing a vote at the Security Council, in order to re-launch peace talks.

In recent weeks, lawmakers have used a variety of tactics to pressure Abbas into reconsidering his bid for statehood. They have not only been counterproductive to the peace process but also severely damaging to the Israeli interests that these lawmakers are ostensibly trying to defend.  Earlier this month, the Republican Study Committee, composed of more than half of the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, circulated a resolution introduced by Joe Walsh (R-IL) recognizing Israeli annexation of the West Bank in the event that the PA moved forward with its bid for statehood at the U.N. “There is no such thing as a two-state solution, and no such thing as land for peace. The ultimate peace is going to come through annexation, through Israel having sovereignty over the whole land, from the Mediterranean to Jordan,” said Walsh. Other legislation before Congress would terminate U.S. funding for the United Nations, including UNRWA, or eliminate foreign aid to any member-state voting in favor of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. 

While U.S. lawmakers are using scare tactics to pressure Abbas, some Congressional members are advocating for a complete funding cut to the Palestinian Authority. However, Congressional support for the termination of aid to the Palestinian Authority draws a sharp distinction between the position of Israel and the U.S. Congress. U.S. lawmakers have threatened to terminate the roughly $500 million in annual economic and security aid the U.S. gives to the Palestinians if they pursue their statehood claim at the U.N. Withholding funding from the PA would certainly weaken the PA but will likely strengthen Hamas, and even the Israeli military has appealed to Netanyahu’s government not to cut funding to the PA. Israel initially threatened the PA and withheld the tax revenues which make up roughly half of the PA’s $3 billion budget. However, the PA’s day-to-day operations fell apart quickly, as funds were not available to pay the salaries of employees, prompting Israel to forward millions of dollars of withheld tax revenues. The Israeli Knesset slammed Israel’s decision to transfer withheld tax revenues to the PA and some U.S. lawmakers continue to push to cut funding to the PA. 

On September 18, the Israeli government submitted a report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) in New York, titled “Measures taken by Israel in support of developing the Palestinian economy and socio-economic structure.” The Ad Hoc Liaison Committee is a 12-member committee which serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for assistance to the Palestinians. In the report, “Israel calls for ongoing international support for the PA budget and development projects that will contribute to the growth of a vibrant private sector, which will provide the PA an expanded base for generating internal revenue.” Echoing the sentiments of Israel during the first of a series of House Foreign Affairs Hearings on “Reexamining U.S. Aid to the Palestinian Authority,” Jacob Walles, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the Department of State, emphasized that “assistance to the PA Security Forces has been critical to the improved security situation in the West Bank.” In concluding remarks, he emphasized that the view of the Administration is that assistance to the Palestinian Authority and to the Palestinian people is an important element in the Administration’s efforts to advance U.S. national security interests in the Middle East. 

Hundreds of Palestinians protested in Ramallah yesterday in response to Obama’s General Assembly speech at the U.N. As Abbas addresses the U.N. General Assembly today, it’s very likely that his pursuit of statehood will have no legal ramifications. But the rhetoric of the Administration and Capitol Hill in response to the Palestinian bid for statehood will doubtless weaken the standing of the U.S. in the Arab World. In this post-Arab Spring environment, when Arab public opinion matters most, the U.S. Government sent a clear signal to the international community, and in particular to the Arab World, that the U.S. does not care about Arab public opinion and is not a true mediator in the peace process. In fact, this is precisely why the Palestinians took their case to the U.N. 

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