WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen released a hold on nearly $200 million in security funds for the Palestinians but is keeping back a similar amount in humanitarian aid.
A spokesman for Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, on Monday confirmed to JTA that Ros-Lehtinen had informed the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development that she would release $197 million in assistance designated for the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus, including $50 million to pay salaries and $147 million in non-lethal assistance.
The spokesman, Brad Goehner, noted that Ros-Lehtinen decided to release the funds only after receiving a "wide range of specific assurances" and more a thousand pages of documents from the Obama administration.
Among the reassurances Ros-Lehtinen sought were President Obama’s certification that releasing the money was in the national security interest of the United States; that Israel had no objection to releasing the funds; and that Salam Fayyad, the PA prime minister who is trusted by Western leaders, would retain control of the funds.
Goehner said that Ros-Lehtinen, who imposed the hold in the wake of PA unity negotiations with Hamas and the Palestinian bid to seek statehood recognition in the United Nations in the absence of negotiations with Israel, is keeping her hold on $192 million in humanitarian and infrastructure aid for nongovernmental groups.
All funds held by Ros-Lehtinen were part of the 2011 budget.
On Tuesday, 44 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter urging House appropriators not to cut funding to the Palestinians in the 2012 budget.
The letter, co-authored by Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), cited Israeli security officials who have said that cutting such funds would pose a risk to Israel. The liberal Israel advocacy group J Street lobbied for the letter.
“We believe that a suspension or termination of assistance would be a serious mistake that would put near-term diplomatic disputes ahead of our long-term interests in the region, as well as the interests of our ally Israel," the letter said.