Top Palestinian diplomat lobbying Congress not to cut off US aid

A top Palestinian diplomat is lobbying Congress not to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) despite its moves to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In a letter provided to The Hill Tuesday, Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat warned pro-Israel lawmakers on the Foreign Affairs and Appropriations committees that cutting off aid would harm U.S. national security.

Areikat is the chief representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the U.S.

“Recent statements by some members of Congress threatening to cut-off U.S. aid to the Palestinian people, in addition to other punitive measures, will not serve the interests of the U.S. or any party to the conflict. On the contrary, it will only harm U.S. national security interests,” said the letter, sent to Congress last week.

“Furthermore, it will erode any future role of the U.S. to assist the parties in putting an end the conflict,” it continued.

The letter was addressed to Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the top leaders on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). It was also addressed to Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) and the top leaders on the House Foreign Affairs Committee: Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and the top Democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). 

During an overseas trip with other senators over the weekend, Graham warned in Israel that the U.S. could cut off aid to the Palestinians if they file a lawsuit against Israel at the ICC. 

A law passed by Congress in December, as part of a government spending bill, states that, if the Palestinians initiate action against Israel at the court, the State Department would have to restrict U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Earlier this month, Paul introduced a bill that would cut off aid to the Palestinians until they withdraw their request to join the ICC.

The Palestinians are expected to formally join the ICC on April 1, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said recently.

An ICC prosecutor, meanwhile, opened a preliminary probe last week into possible war crimes committed by Israel during the war in Gaza last summer.

In the letter, Areikat argued Palestinians had no other choice but to pursue action through the U.N., after Israel failed to follow through on promises made to Secretary of State John Kerry during peace negotiations.

“The continuation of the Israeli military occupation is the fundamental source of instability for all parties involved, including Israel," he wrote. "The war in Gaza, last July, is unquestionable proof that unless the occupation ends, and the Palestinian people can be free and live in dignity, there will be no tranquility or stability in the region.” 

Areikat said he would prefer to meet with the lawmakers to discuss both sides' concerns.

Israel has already frozen a monthly transfer of roughly $120 million in tax revenue it collects on behalf of the P.A. The U.S. provides about $400 million each year to the Palestinian Authority.