Congressional effort would block Palestinian funding if statehood pursued

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 20, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Republican U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, who took over a key U.S. House funding subcommittee in January, has emerged as a behind-the-scenes power player in the Israel-Palestinian Authority face-off that is coming to a head this week at the United Nations.

The Palestinian Authority, which is the governing body in much of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is pushing hard for statehood recognition from the U.N. with a vote in the Security Council now expected Friday.

But Granger, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee that funds the State Department and foreign operations, and a strong supporter of Israel, has been warning Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas for months that the consequence of the statehood move would be a cutoff of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid.

Granger, along with the panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., delivered on the threat this summer with a provision in the annual funding bill for international programs that would cut $390 million in economic assistance if the P.A. pursues statehood at the United Nations. Although the United States is committed to vetoing the bid in the Security Council, the much larger General Assembly, full of Palestinian supporters, would back the Palestinian Authority's plea for statehood.

"The decision could be disastrous," said Granger in an interview. "It turns their back on the negotiating possibility. There could be a violent reaction within the Arab states. It creates unrealistic expectations for the Arab population. By taking this route, they're saying, 'It's not going to happen. We are not negotiating at the peace table.'"

Asked whether the provision in the bill was a threat that escalated the tension, she said, "We are not escalating it."

Granger said the subcommittee had not approached the Obama administration or the State Department, which is frantically trying to head off a vote as President Barack Obama speaks to the General Assembly on Wednesday. "They are very aware of what we're doing," she said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee meets Wednesday to vote on funding for international operations for 2012, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the ranking Republican on the Senate foreign operations subcommittee and another staunch Israeli supporter, is also advocating cutting off the Palestinian Authority's funds.

The issue resonates with Republicans, especially evangelicals, and Tuesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a White House candidate, spoke out sharply against the Palestinian Authority attempt at a New York campaign stop.

"The Palestinians must know their gambit comes with consequences — in particular that America will have to reconsider the $4 billion in assistance we have provided to the Palestinians over the last 17 years," Perry said.

Many Republicans are champions of the Israeli state. A large group of 81 House members, including 55 Republicans — Granger was one of them — traveled to Israel this summer. The Texas congresswoman, who also visited Israel earlier in the year, met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in August and said she told him, "'I want you to know we're very serious about this.'"

Her bottom line on the U.N. move: "This changes the dynamic and what has been an agreed-upon process."

What are the consequences of Granger's action?

"If Kay does it, it'll have real resonance," said Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. "There's fairly wide-spread support for it in Congress."

But, so far, he warned, "that kind of threat, or perceived threat, doesn't seem to have had any effect."

Khaled Elgindy, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, said, "I think there are serious consequences if they were to carry through on that threat. It risks undermining the entire investment in the Palestinian Authority over the last decade."

Granger's provision, he said, "is a kind of knee-jerk reaction."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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