WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Worried about possible U.S. aid cuts to the Palestinians, some American Jewish groups find themselves in the peculiar position of defending the funding, particularly money that supports Palestinian security forces.
The Congress has threatened to review the roughly $500 million in annual aid to the Palestinians if they seek full membership at the United Nations, a step opposed by Israel and the United States.
Of the $513.4 million in such aid the Obama administration has requested for the year beginning October 1, $113 million would help strengthen Palestinian security forces and improve rule of law in the West Bank.
Such aid is seen as crucial to reducing violence and to promoting security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel that could be jeopardized if the Palestinians go forward at the United Nations.
It is difficult for pro-Israel groups to publicly support maintaining aid to the Palestinians given the Palestinians’ stated determination to flout the wishes of the United States.
But at least two groups have explicitly done so -- The Israel Project, which says it has laid out an argument to members of Congress that U.S. security aid should not be cut; and J Street, which has issued a statement defending the aid.
“We have made the case that the security cooperation, which is largely funded and supported by America, needs to continue if we want to see the progress ... in reducing terrorism continue,” The Israel Project’s president, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, told Reuters.
J Street said last week: ”We must make clear to American politicians, particularly in Congress, that being pro-Israel does not require cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority in retaliation for approaching the U.N.
“Such a move will hurt Israel’s interests by undermining moderate Palestinian leadership and defunding productive security cooperation.”
The advocacy and lobbying group’s leaders were on Capitol Hill on Wednesday asking members to sign a letter to Obama urging the maintenance of U.S. aid to the Palestinians.
‘THE GOOSE THAT LAYS THE GOLDEN EGGS’
Elliott Abrams, a former aide to President George W. Bush now at the Council on Foreign Relations, said “there are grave doubts about significant cuts in aid to the Palestinian Authority” within American Jewish organizations.
“The security assistance case is more obvious because this ... has been in our national interest and it has also helped Israel a good deal,” said Abrams.
“But the doubts extend to the nonsecurity aid as well because the question is: what will happen if the PA collapses? Won’t that simply create greater and more difficult responsibilities for Israel?”
Other analysts suggested aid cuts could not only undermine security but also the Palestinian Authority itself and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who has reformed its governance.
“He’s the goose that lays the golden eggs. With no eggs, I don’t think he wants to stick around,” said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank. “That means the person who has been the driving force of security cooperation, the driver of institution building, he is gone.”
Abrams and Makovsky advised Congress on Wednesday to wait and see the content of any Palestinian U.N. resolution, as well as what happens after any vote, before slashing U.S. aid.
“Keeping some of your powder dry is probably a good idea,” Abrams told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Palestinians might still move to negotiations with Israel after any U.N. vote, but such a move is more likely if they know Washington is “waiting and watching,” he said.
Sentiment among lawmakers at the hearing was overwhelmingly in favor of an aid cutoff if the Palestinians persist with their U.N. plans.
“Despite decades of assistance totaling billions of dollars, if a Palestinian state were declared today, it would be neither democratic nor peaceful nor willing to negotiate with Israel,” said the panel’s chairman, Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
She said she wondered what the “tangible benefits” were of continued U.S. aid.
But there is some recognition on Capitol Hill that cutting security aid may not be the best policy.
Republican Senator John McCain said on Tuesday he would not favor a “blanket” aid cut-off and he spoke highly of some the security aid being spent on police training facilities in the West Bank.
Senator John Kerry, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was also wary. “I’d be very very skeptical about that being the right policy, but it really depends a lot on how that debate unfolds,” he said.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said no one wanted to see security aid to the Palestinians get cut but that he believed the Palestinians should pay a price for ignoring U.S. views.
“I certainly understand the anger in Congress. You ignore us and then you want us to continue giving you aid?”
Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Doina Chiacu