Top members of the U.S. House of Representatives are trying to stop a transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority.
U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House’s powerful foreign operations subcommittee, wrote Tuesday to the U.S. Agency for International Development, which administers assistance to the Palestinians, asking it to stop the transfer of $150 million to the Palestinian Authority until it provides certification that the Palestinian Authority has implemented transparency measures.
Lowey also wants clarification of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas’ reported refusal to disavow a return to armed conflict with Israel.
“President Abbas’ recent statements cast doubt on his willingness to take the steps necessary for peace with Israel,” Lowey said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also sought a “hold” – with even broader conditions for releasing the money: proof that the Palestinian Authority had halted incitement.
“Statements by Mr. Abbas clearly violate, at minimum, the spirit of U.S. law regarding such hateful rhetoric,” she said.
President Bush last week ordered U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to waive congressional restrictions on the $150 million. Congress had approved the money last year, but on the condition that Rice be able to certify that she had written guarantees from the Palestinian Authority that a single authority controlled the money. P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said that such an authority is in place.
Such transfers are otherwise banned under legislation passed in recent years by the U.S. Congress because of fears the money could end up in the hands of terrorists. Most of the more than $500 million Bush has pledged to the Palestinians will be funneled through third parties under strict oversight, as Congress has mandated.
In the case of the $150 million, Bush contends that the Palestinian Authority needs the money to leverage critical loans at a time that it is confronting extremists and negotiating peace with Israel.
Whether lawmakers in fact are able to place a hold on such funds once a president has waived restrictions has never been put to a constitutional test. Bush and his predecessors have argued for wide executive latitude in administering foreign policy.
The Orthodox Union called on Congress to remove presidential waivers from legislation restricting funding for the Palestinian Authority.