Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta sharply criticized members of Congress who put holds on funds slated for development projects in the West Bank and Gaza and security assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Panetta added his voice to the list of politicians and policy experts expressing frustration with congressional efforts to penalize the PA. Speaking at a Tel Aviv press conference, he emphasized that the White House opposes withholding the funds.
This is a critical time. This is no time to withhold those funds, at a point in time where we are urging the Palestinians and Israelis to sit down and negotiate a peace agreement.
Americans for Peace Now (APN) breaks down the blocked funding and concludes that while $200 million in 2011 funding has already been spent, the blockage will hold up $192 million in funds for humanitarian programs for Palestinian residents in the West Bank and Gaza. These programs include USAID projects and other development assistance programs which have long been kept completely separate from aid to the PA. In addition to the humanitarian aid, $150 million in funding for security assistance to the PA will be withheld.
CAP’s Peter Juul reported last week that Israeli and American officials expressed “deep concern” about defunding the PA:
Both Israelis and Americans stated that a cut off of U.S. aid or Israeli tax transfers could lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority itself. For their part, Israelis viewed an aid cutoff as a threat to Israeli security given the near-certain likelihood that such a move would lead to the breakdown of security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s security forces.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Anthony H. Cordesman warned that cutting military aid to the PA could badly damage Palestinian and Israeli security interests. And even neoconservative pro-Israel hawks have voiced opposition to holding up the funding. Responding to the aid blockage, former Bush administration Middle East adviser Elliot Abrams told a Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Hudson Institute conference yesterday that cutting off aid to the PA could result in a collapse of the government in the West Bank.
The blockage in aid has already resulted in the elimination of 50 jobs, according to Palestinian economics minister Hassan Abu Libdeh. The PA has twice failed to pay employees on time in recent months, raising tensions in the West Bank as spending on public works and civil servant salaries become increasingly unpredictable. Concerns about the cutoff in funding go beyond the West Bank and Gaza as American and Israeli officials are growing increasingly vocal with their warnings that a cutoff of assistance could lead to a breakdown in security cooperation with the PA and undermine attempts to build up the West Bank economy.