Lawmakers query Obama officials on PA funding, statehood push

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Top Obama administration officials faced tough questions from lawmakers on funding for the Palestinian Authority and its efforts to seek statehood recognition.

During a hearing Tuesday of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) probed the U.S. Agency for International Development ‘s administrator, Rajiv Shah, on the administration’s funding for the PA and requested a written justification for the Obama administration’s $147 million request for the Palestinians.

"Among the arguments utilized is that Abu Mazen needs to be supported because he’s ‘all we have,’ " said Ros-Lehtinen, the committee’s chairwoman, using the byname for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "However, the administration is not demanding that Abu Mazen return to the negotiation table with Israel without preconditions, nor that he stop his unilateral statehood scheme at the U.N.”

In a separate hearing, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, asked Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, to address concerns about the Palestinian push for statehood, particularly through UNESCO, the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency, which granted the Palestinians full membership last year, sparking a U.S. funding cutoff that was required by federal law. The Obama administration has indicated that it will seek a congressional waiver to allow the resumption of funding to UNESCO.

“Many members of Congress believe that cutting off these funds is the reason the PA stopped further recognition efforts,” Granger said in her opening statement. She said the Palestinians were going around the peace process to seek recognition as a state.

In her testimony before the committee, Rice noted “there is no shortcut to statehood. Tough issues can only be solved through direct negotiations between the parties. We have been consistent and clear on this.”

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