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Opinion

Congress makes Elmo cry by defunding Palestinian 'Sesame Street'

In protest of the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen froze $192 million in funding for USAID programs, including a Palestinian version of 'Sesame Street.' The move has not only jeopardized the show, but US Mideast policy.

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While it has frozen humanitarian aid, the United States continues to support Palestinian Authority security forces by funding training and equipment. This reinforces the notion that Washington is interested solely in maintaining Israel’s security.

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Because of the aid freeze, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly rejected the $150 million earmarked for security service. If he failed to provide education and health while delivering security to Israel, Mr. Abbas would be committing political suicide. The decision would make the PA seem eager to guard the interests of Israel while compromising on Palestinian basic rights of education and health.

As Kuttab explained to The Washington Post, “Palestinians would see the aid as analogous to the 30 pieces of silver that were accepted by Judas Iscariot when he delivered Jesus – a position Abbas does not want to be in.”

The "Sharaa’ Simsim" cancellation raises the question of whether a US bias toward Israel is reflected not only in the political arena but in the humanitarian realm as well. Congress has frozen the funds for Palestinians, but the State Department is investing $750,000 in the Israeli version of "Sesame Street." Danny Labin, an executive at the Israeli television station that co-produces the Israeli "Sesame Street," expressed concerns, calling the act “extremely unfortunate.”

The funding cuts should provide an important lesson to the Palestinians as well. They should learn that diversifying their sources of funding is vital not only for the survival of worthwhile programs like "Sharaa’ Simsim" but also for their national independence. The Palestinians should not accept a partnership that forces them to choose between an educational show for children and their statehood appeal at the United Nations.

Ibrahim Sharqieh is a fellow in foreign policy at The Brookings Institution and deputy director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. He holds a PhD from George Mason University’s Conflict Analysis and Resolution School. Follow him on Twitter: @sharqieh and Facebook: Ibrahim Sharqieh

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