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Congress threatens Palestinian aid

WASHINGTON, July 26 (JTA) — If Yasser Arafat unilaterally declares a Palestinian state, the U.S. Congress will have something to say about it.

Lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday that would block all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority if Arafat follows up on his promise to declare statehood on Sept. 13.

The congressional move comes just one day after the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians collapsed after 15 days of negotiations at Camp David. The trilateral agreement that came out of the summit stipulated that both parties should refrain from unilateral acts.

In addition to blocking the annual aid of $100 million that goes to the Palestinians, the bill, the Middle East Peace Process Support Act, would preclude the use of any funds to extend American recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state, including money for diplomatic personnel or to establish an embassy.

It also calls on the United States to oppose admission or recognition of any such state to the United Nations.

The bipartisan legislation is intended as “a warning” to Arafat, said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who co-sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives with Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.). Similar legislation was expected to be introduced in the Senate.

“To enjoy financial assistance from the United States, Arafat must continue a dialogue with Israel,” Nadler said at a news conference outside the Capitol on Wednesday.

Currently, Palestinians receive approximately $100 million in U.S. aid annually through programs administered by non-governmental organizations monitored by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Since U.S. funds are only a small percentage of the international assistance the Palestinians receive, lawmakers also said they want the administration to pressure European countries not to recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state.

Two pro-Israel groups, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee and the Israel Policy Forum, lauded the congressional action.

A unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state would be “anathema” to the peace process, Tom Smerling, director of IPF’s Washington Center, said, adding that it “couldn’t hurt” for Arafat to hear the threat from Congress.

AIPAC’s executive director, Howard Kohr, said the legislation sends “a strong signal to Arafat that Congress will reject any attempt to disregard the most fundamental principle of the peace process — that peace must be achieved through direct negotiations, not unilateral actions and threats of violence.”

Since Congress is heading into its August recess, lawmakers said they hope the issue would be taken up soon after Labor Day, when they return for several weeks before concluding this congressional session.

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