With eye on 2016, Rand Paul tries to block US aid to Palestinians

Sen. Rand Paul has caused some concerns among supporters of Israel with his libertarian foreign policy. But they can all rally around halting US aid to Palestinians.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky (c.) is trailed by reporters after Democratic and Republican party policy luncheons at the Capitol in Washington Wednesday.

By introducing a bill this week to halt all United States foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority, Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky was hardly blazing into new political territory. This is the libertarian senator who, in 2011, proposed ending all foreign aid to all countries, after all.

But as with most things in Washington, timing is everything.

Senator Paul clearly has his eye on running for president in 2016, and last week he met with top Jewish donors including casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire who bankrolled Newt Gingrich's surprisingly successful 2012 campaign. The race for Adelson's support among potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates has been called the "Sheldon Adelson Primary."

And Paul has some fence-mending to do.

Israel's staunchest supporters weren't too impressed by Paul's 2011 proposal to end all foreign aid – including the $3 billion sent annually to Israel. The criticism grew to such a pitch that Paul reversed course and not only called simply for a freeze of foreign aid at current levels but denied ever having advocated cutting foreign aid to Israel. PolitiFact called this a "Pants on Fire" lie.

Ever since, Paul has steered clear of the aid-to-Israel snarl. But last week, it seemed, was an opportune time to remind Washington of his willingness to block aid to the Palestinians until they accept a cease-fire and recognize Israel's statehood. Paul introduced a similar bill last year.

Paul's action comes on the heels of the Palestinian Authority's admittance to the International Criminal Court. The authority's admittance means it could bring complaints to the court regarding Israel's activities in the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also signed 21 other international treaties on New Year's Eve as part of a strategy to force the international community to recognize the Palestinians' claims to statehood. By acting like an independent state, the Palestinian Authority hopes to persuade nations to see Palestinian statehood as a fait accompli.

Neither the United States nor Israel has ratified the statute that underlies the ICC. Israel and the US support the court's goals but say that the process by which individuals can be sent to the court could be politically motivated or manipulated. 

The US has spent about $400 million annually on aid for West Bank and Gaza since 2008. 

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