Senate threatens to cut aid to Palestinians over statehood bid at UN

Senators from both parties warned Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday that he will be putting millions of dollars of U.S. aid at risk if he goes forward with his planned statehood bid at the United Nations next week.

Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), co-authors of a Senate resolution denouncing the statehood bid, wrote to the Palestinian Authority president on Wednesday warning him that “any such efforts may cause consequences in regards to U.S. policy and foreign aid.” The resolution reaffirming the U.S. preference for a negotiated two-state solution to the long-lasting Middle East conflict passed unanimously in late June.

“Should you decide … to bypass direct negotiations and unilaterally seek upgraded status at the U.N.,” they wrote, “we want to again remind you of the potential for significant consequences.”

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in announcing a Gaza cease-fire Wednesday that the United States would pursue a “comprehensive peace,” raising hopes that the Obama administration would rekindle two-state peace talks that have been frozen for the past three years over disagreements about Israeli settlements and future borders. 

Palestinians, however, have grown impatient for the two-state solution that has been under negotiation since the 1970s.

Congress blocked U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority last year after Abbas sought U.N. membership, a move that was derailed by a U.S. veto threat at the Security Council. President Obama signed a waiver in April removing the block on the $192 million aid package, calling it "important to the security interests of the United States."

This time, the United States cannot veto the move because Abbas is seeking observer status, akin to that of the Vatican. Doing so could allow the Palestinians to pursue war crime charges against Israel at the U.N.'s International Criminal Court, according to some experts.

Palestine is expected to easily gain statehood recognition if it seeks it, Middle East expert Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said at a Capitol Hill briefing this week. Schanzer said Abbas has been building support for the past seven years, starting with a visit to Latin America in 2005.