(CNSNews.com) – Just days after the Obama administration announced it was unblocking almost $500 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority, P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas told an Arab League summit this week he was pushing ahead with efforts to upgrade the P.A.’s status – the reason Congress wanted the money held up in the first place.
Abbas complained that the Palestinian people were being collectively punished for opting to seek statehood at the U.N.
Abbas also used his speech at the summit in Doha, Qatar to reprise his accusations that Israel is systemically racing to “judaize” Jerusalem, and repeated the inflammatory claim that it is “attacking the al-Aqsa Mosque and Muslim and Christian holy sites.”
Last Thursday, President Obama in a speech in Jerusalem told Israelis he believed Abbas to be “a true partner.”
Hours earlier, standing alongside Abbas in Ramallah, Obama announced, “I’m pleased that in recent weeks the United States has been able to provide additional assistance to help the Palestinian Authority bolster its finances.”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland then confirmed that $495.7 million in FY 2012 funds was being moved to the P.A. and that Congress has been notified that the administration was looking to unfreeze another $200 million. The money includes direct budget support for the P.A., funding for narcotics control and law enforcement, and for USAID-implemented assistance programs.
During his visit to Ramallah Obama paid tribute to Abbas for his “courage” and commended him for progress in “building the institutions of a Palestinian state.”
Neither he nor Abbas mentioned in their joint appearance the P.A.’s push in recent years for U.N. recognition – a drive opposed by the United States – which culminated in last November’s overwhelming U.N. General Assembly vote granting it “non-member observer state” status.
The administration afterwards declared that the vote “does not establish that Palestine is a state,” but Abbas moved ahead with expanding the trappings of statehood, ordering that all references to the P.A. – from official stationery to diplomatic missions – be changed to the “State of Palestine.”
His speech in Doha indicated that he was pushing forward with the initiative.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, this week called the administration’s decision to release the funds “reckless.”
“With the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral actions at the U.N. and its reconciliation efforts with Hamas, the U.S. could have used this as an opportunity to leverage our assistance to demonstrate to Abu Mazen [Abbas] that he needs to stop pursuing policies that undermine the peace process,” she said.
Ros-Lehtinen said Abbas “needs to realize that there are repercussions for his actions and that he will not be rewarded for his malfeasance with millions of hardworking American taxpayer dollars that he considers an entitlement for the P.A.
“With our nation facing its own financial crisis at home with runaway deficits and an ever expanding national debt, committing this amount of money unconditionally to the P.A. is reckless and an example of misplaced priorities.”
After Abbas first launched the U.N. recognition bid in 2011, Congress passed requirements in appropriations legislation prohibiting budget support for the P.A. should it obtain “the same standing as member states or full membership as a state in the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof outside and agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The measure included national security interest waiver authority, however, and the administration is arguing that the funding is crucial.
“We consider these to be investments in a future Palestinian state – investments in peace, which is in all of our interests,” Obama said in Ramallah.
Nuland said earlier that “an economically-viable Palestinian Authority is in the interests not only of the Palestinians themselves but of regional peace and security.”
Secretary of State John Kerry has made releasing the funds a priority. During his visit to Europe and the Middle East last month, he stressed the importance of funding the P.A. to “virtually every one of his interlocutors,” according to Nuland.
Since P.A. self-rule was established under the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, the U.S. has provided more than $4 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, “among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid,” according to a Congressional Research Service report released last January.
The report said successive administrations have identified three major policy priorities in motivating for the funding, one of which is, “[p]reventing terrorism against Israel from Hamas and other militant organizations.”
Abbas’ Fatah movement has been pursuing reconciliation with Hamas, its Palestinian rival in Gaza, designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization. This week’s Arab League summit in Doha agreed to set up a Fatah-Hamas meeting in Cairo soon to push that ahead.