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Why even Israel supporters are worried about US freeze on Palestinian aid

The Palestinian campaign for statehood hasn't sat well with Washington, and now some members of Congress have decided to freeze some of the $500 million US aid to Palestinians.

By Staff writer / October 5, 2011

Palestinians hold placards and shout slogans during a protest against a freeze by U.S Congress on aid for the Palestinian Authority, in the West Bank city of Ramallah October 4, 2011.

Mohamad Torokman/ REUTERS

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WASHINGTON

The Palestinian campaign for statehood, waged at this year's United Nations General Assembly, has not sat well with Washington, and now some members of Congress are doing something about it: They are placing holds on parts of the $500 million in annual assistance the Palestinians receive from the US.

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The congressional moves come as the Palestinian drive for international recognition advanced Wednesday when the executive board of UNESCO, the UN Education, Science, and Cultural Organization, voted in Paris to recommend to the agency’s 193 member states that an independent Palestine be admitted as a full member.

The Obama administration, which opposes the UN statehood bid and vows to veto it in the Security Council, nevertheless is against any cutoff of Palestinian aid. While in Israel this week to meet with his Israeli counterpart and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said “now is not the time” to withhold funding that provides “benefits” to both the Palestinians and to Israel.

There is irony in Congressional action aimed at punishing the Palestinians for steps the US does not like, some analysts say. The move is being spearheaded by members of Congress who consider themselves among Israel’s best friends. But even Israeli officials have argued for maintaining the aid, much of which goes to train and support Palestinian law enforcement forces and to build up the Palestinian justice system.

“These members of Congress are going far to the right of the ruling coalition in Israel by placing these holds, and are actually undermining it,” says Dylan Williams, director of government affairs at J Street, a Washington pro-Israel advocacy group that favors a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

US aid to the Palestinians falls into three categories: direct budgetary assistance, humanitarian assistance administered through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and security assistance. “Holds,” which are a means usually at committee chairs’ disposal for stalling funding or other measures, have been placed on all three lines of Palestinian aid.

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