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AIPAC acolytes demand Palestine aid cutoff

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netanyahu-aipacby MJ Rosenberg

AIPAC acolytes in the House of Representatives are now demanding that the United States cut off aid to the Palestinians. The reason: Palestinians have sought redress for their grievances against Israel by turning to the United Nations rather than continuing fruitless negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

According to Haaretz, two influential members of Congress actually marched to the United Nations to tell the Palestinians "no soup for you".

Rep. Gary Ackerman [D-NY], member of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, stressed that "There may need to be a total cutoff of all aid to the Palestinians for pursuing this course of action which is very dangerous and ill advised."

"They should think twice, reverse course and get back to the negotiating table where Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu awaits them," he concluded.

Ackerman was accompanied by Rep. Nita Lowey (NY), the ranking Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee that handles foreign aid. Again, Haaretz:

Congresswoman Nita Lowey called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' actions a counter-productive publicity stunt, saying he is not interested in peace. "They [the Palestinians] have not been forced into this position, and the circumstances are not beyond their control. They have chosen to discontinue negotiations with Israel and pursue a counter-productive publicity stunt." she said. [...]

Lowey suggested Abbas' actions warrant a strong US response. "His action cross a line and should lead to a reevaluation of US assistance for the Palestinian Authority," she said.

Cutting aid

The Palestinians currently receive $500m from the United States, which the PA uses for a host of programmes, including increasing it capacity to fight terrorism, paying government salaries, feeding its people and providing medical care. The following US government chart shows precisely how the aid we provide is spent (needless to say, every dime comes under an exhaustive US government audit).

But Ackerman, Lowey and a host of their Democratic colleagues want to cut off the money. (Obviously, most Republicans do too, but since they oppose most foreign aid in general they are guilty only of the sin of greed, not hypocrisy.)

It hardly needs saying that the Democrats who want to punish the Palestinian people for ignoring our request that they not go to the United Nations have never threatened to cut our $3.5bn in aid to Israel by even a dollar.

Israel has rejected repeated US requests that it freeze settlements, ease the Gaza blockade and stop the abuse of Palestinians by settlers all without Congress murmuring a word of protest. 

Even when General David Petraeus and former Secretary of Defence Robert Gates warned that Israeli policies jeopardised US interests (including our military personnel) in the region, Israel simply looked away and kept doing whatever it was doing. Congress most certainly didn't consider reducing aid; in fact, every budget proposal before Congress today exempts aid for Israel even while virtually all programmes that benefit Americans are on the cutting block.

But now Ackerman, Lowey and the rest want to eliminate aid to the Palestinians because are taking their case to the UN. Please!

Yes, the Palestinians are turning to the United Nations to achieve statehood, but Netanyahu has ignored repeated demands by the Obama administration to take action to facilitate negotiations. (Netanyahu's intransigence is the reason behind Abbas' UN push.) You didn't see Ackerman, Lowey and company criticise that, let alone suggest (heaven forbid) that aid to Israel be cut by even a nickel. In fact, both Ackerman and Lowey oppose linking aid to Israel to Israel's behaviour. Ever. (This is AIPAC rule number one: No linkage.)

Here is the craziest part of the Ackerman/Lowey initiative. Not only is the aid cut opposed by Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta, it is also opposed by the government of Israel. In fact, Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Foreign Ministry issued a report on September 18, which said:

Israel calls for ongoing international support for the PA budget and development projects that will contribute to the growth of a vibrant private sector, which will provide the PA an expanded base for generating internal revenue.

Israel maintains bilateral dialogues with the PA on a variety of matters, aiming to support the upgrade of Palestinian infrastructure in these areas, including: financial and customs services, water and sewage infrastructure, the legal system and the rule of law, the agriculture sector, and the electricity network. [...]

These measures have been accompanied by intensified security coordination between the authorities on both sides, seeking greater security and improved institutional capacity. Israeli-Palestinian security coordination and the continuous relative security created have provided the necessary environment for business development and economic growth.

So who supports cutting off aid?  Who is behind the Ackerman/Lowey effort?

Enter acolytes

The answer is easy: AIPAC. It is supporting Senate and House resolutions that urge aid cutoffs and other punitive measures against the Palestinians. Not for the first time, AIPAC's cutouts in Congress are taking their cues from the lobby, not from their own government or even the Israelis. So much for their supposed devotion to Israel. After all, if it were Israel they were worried about (and not keeping AIPAC and its donors happy in an election year) they would follow Israel's lead, not AIPAC's.

Of course, these usually progressive members of Congress don't believe a word they are saying. Ackerman, in particular, is so emphatically dovish in private that I laugh every time I read some hawkish statement from his office. And Lowey is pretty dovish herself. It's just that they have AIPAC breathing down their necks and it's AIPAC that directs the donors.

Of course, none of this is surprising, though it is nausea-inducing. Aren't the Palestinians people? Don't they have rights? And don't those rights include the right of self-determination in their own land, occupied for 44 years? Don't they have a say?

According to our Congress, they don't.

Here is what Mohammed Shtayyeh, a member of the Palestinian delegation to the UN, told the The Independent:

Mr. Shtayyeh suggested that the congressional block on the funds ... was particularly embarrassing for the US because even Israel was continuing, so far, to remit customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. He told the Maan news agency that the block had been imposed six weeks ago but he thought it was unlikely to be sustained. He added: "It is unbelievable that any parliament imposes sanctions on a people just because that people seeks self-determination and independence."

Sad to say, it's not unbelievable. It is just the way the American legislature operates because US legislators' primary, if not only, goal is financing their reelection campaigns. The Israeli-Palestinian issue, as played out in Washington by the president and Congress, is always about winning the next election. The good news is that as public opinion shifts (and it is shifting) donor attitudes will shift, too. Time is not on AIPAC's side.

It reminds me of what the lobby likes to say about the Saudis: "What will they do when the oil runs out?" What will AIPAC do when a new generation moves to the fore and the money is directed elsewhere?

MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at the Media Matters Action Network.

A version of this article was previously published on Foreign Policy Matters.


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