* Rep. Granger cites humanitarian reasons
* Rep. Ros-Lehtinen complains of administration 'hard-ball'
* Palestinian Authority projected deficit is $1.1 bln
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, March 23 U.S. lawmakers on
Friday released $88.6 million in development aid for the
Palestinians that they had held up since last summer, a move
that should help ease a fiscal crisis in the aid-dependent
Representative Kay Granger announced she was ready for the
entire $147 million in U.S. assistance that had been frozen
since August to go to the Palestinians.
But the other Republican who had a "hold" on the funds,
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, limited the release to $88.6
million, saying in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton that was all she was willing to free up.
Ros-Lehtinen also said she was releasing the money with the
understanding it would not be used for "assistance and recovery
in Hamas-controlled Gaza," West Bank road construction, or trade
and tourism promotion in the Palestinian territories. The United
States considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization.
The letter did not say how the freed-up funds would be
spent, but Ros-Lehtinen suggested earlier this week she would be
willing to approve money targeted for water programs, health and
food for the Palestinians.
Both Granger and Ros-Lehtinen had barred expenditure of the
U.S. funds since last year because they objected to the
Palestinian push for recognition at the United Nations. They
argued that the path to Palestinian statehood was through a
peace treaty with Israel.
Granger said on Friday she had decided the money should be
released for humanitarian reasons and to help stability in the
Palestinian territories in a time of uncertainty across the
"I have taken a strong position on aid to the PA
(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 in a statement.
"Right now it is in our interest - and the interest of our
allies in the region - to allow aid to flow to address security
and humanitarian concerns."
Granger chairs the House of Representatives appropriations
subcommittee in charge of foreign aid, while Ros-Lehtinen chairs
the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Technically, the Obama administration can override the
objections of individual lawmakers and spend aid money once it
has been appropriated by Congress.
But successive administrations have generally deferred to
holds on funds by key members of relevant committees.
Ros-Lehtinen complained in her letter to Clinton
and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator
Rajiv Shah that the administration had threatened to spend the
money "over congressional objections" if the lawmakers' holds
were not lifted.
"I am disappointed that the administration would employ
hard-ball tactics against Congress," she said.
IMF URGES DONORS
Both Granger and Ros-Lehtinen have been pressured by the
Obama administration as well as the international community to
release the development aid, which Congress had appropriated for
fiscal year 2011.
There have been growing warnings, including from the
International Monetary Fund, that the Palestinians are facing a
deepening financial crisis due to a drop in aid from Western
backers and wealthy Gulf states as well as Israeli restrictions
The IMF urged donors last week to meet their aid pledges to
the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank,
which has a projected 2012 budget deficit of $1.1 billion.
The United States has committed over $4 billion in bilateral
assistance to the Palestinians since the mid-1990s, the
Congressional Research Service says.
Since fiscal year 2008, the annual U.S. contribution has
averaged $600 million, the CRS says. Usually, that includes
about $200 million in direct budgetary aid and $100 million in
security aid for training Palestinian security forces, in
addition to development aid, the CRS says.
Congress voted in December to allow aid to the Palestinians
to continue in fiscal 2012 - the current fiscal year - as long
as they were not admitted as a state to any more U.N.
organizations. The Palestinians won admission to UNESCO in
October, a move that prompted the United States to cut off
funding to that agency.