House Bill Would Cut Aid to Palestinian Authority

New bill timed to Obama’s meetings with PA leaders would require recognition of Israel’s right to exist

Palestinians rip an American flag during a protest against the visit of President Barack Obama / AP
March 20, 2013

A Florida Republican House member plans to introduce a bill halting U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until it formally "recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state" and cuts off all ties with the terror group Hamas.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.) will introduce on Thursday "The Palestinian Accountability Act," a bill timed to coincide with Obama’s meetings in the West Bank with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The measure would freeze all U.S. aid to the ailing PA. It would also cut aid to the United Nations should the international body recognize an independent state of Palestine outside of the peace process with Israel.

The bill comes as lawmakers vigorously debate funding priorities amid an ongoing budget crunch that has already drained millions of dollars from federal coffers. Supporters of the bill argue that PA funding should be halted in lieu of more pressing foreign budgetary priorities.

The PA receives nearly $500 million in U.S. aid each year.

"At a time when the government is shutting down air traffic control towers, ending tours of the White House and slashing the defense budget, we continue to dole out hundreds of millions in foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority," DeSantis wrote Wednesday in a letter to his fellow lawmakers obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

"The Palestinian Authority promotes violence and hatred against Israel; yet we continue to dole out hundreds of millions in foreign aid," DeSantis said in a statement provided to the Free Beacon. "This legislation will ensure that we stop rewarding bad behavior, while improving the prospects for a real, lasting peace in the Middle East."

"As Congress works towards balancing our budget and reining in a growing $16.7 trillion dollar debt, we must prioritize our spending," DeSantis said. "Sending foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority when it refuses to take the most basic steps toward peace is unacceptable and the wrong use of taxpayer money."

The measure would force the PA to moderate its more extreme positions in order to receive critical U.S. dollars, which have kept the Palestinian government afloat in recent years.

Under the measure, the PA would have to recognize Israel’s right to exist "as a Jewish state," "regularly and strongly" condemn terrorism, and exclude Hamas from any future government unless the terror group adheres to the bill’s regulations.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.) froze PA aid during her tenure as chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. However, these holds were lifted when Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.) assumed control of the committee in January, according to congressional sources familiar with the issue.

The Obama administration requested around $495.7 million in aid for the PA during fiscal year 2012. The fiscal year 2013 request was about $440 million.

DeSantis argued that continued U.S. funding would only encourage the PA’s bad behavior, which includes incitement against Israel and the routine honoring of terrorists.

"Continuing to provide foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority when it refuses to take the most basic steps toward peace isn’t just a bad use of American taxpayer dollars," DeSantis said in the dear colleague letter. "It undermines our ally, Israel, and delays the day that we will finally see peace in the Middle East by enabling behavior that makes a peace agreement more difficult."

The bill would additionally bar the U.S. government from referring "to the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority as ‘Palestine’" until the bill’s conditions are met, according to an advance copy of the measure obtained by the Free Beacon.

The PA would be prevented from participating "in any economic, educational, cultural, or other boycott of Israel, its citizens, its products, or its services," among other restrictions, according to the bill.

The PA would additionally have to submit to a full audit of its budget by the U.S. in order to receive aid.

Additionally, all U.S. funding to the United Nations, including its refugee arms, would be slashed if the body recognizes the state of Palestine, according to the bill.

"The United States must stop rewarding bad behavior, and start demanding accountability from recipients of foreign aid," DeSantis wrote. "This bill will ensure that we do exactly that, while improving the prospects for a real, lasting peace in the Middle East."

The bill will likely be referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which would have the power to send it to a full vote in the House.

The bill has attracted several cosponsors early on, including Reps. Steve King  (R., Iowa), Sam Johnson (R., Texas), and Joe Pitts (R., Pa.), among others.

Not everyone agrees that aid to the PA should be cut off, however.

"Cutting the PA's funding is a policy that the U.S. should avoid at all costs," said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

"If Washington is concerned with the increasingly reckless rhetoric and dangerous foreign policy of the Palestinian leadership, the target should be the [Palestine Liberation Organization]," Schanzer said. "The PLO effectively runs the PA. It was the PLO that was responsible for the unilateral upgrade at the U.N. in November. Mahmoud Abbas happens to be the head of that organization, while also serving as the president of the PA. If anything, the PLO should be the target of Washington's ire."