House lawmakers: Aid to Palestinians at risk with ICC bid

The leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee are warning the United States could cut off aid to Palestinians if they don't back out of their bid to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

“The United States should not support direct economic assistance to the [Palestinian Authority] until it demonstrates a meaningful reversal of this destructive course and proves it can be a willing partner for peace,” the lawmakers wrote to Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryKerry: Trump comments on German chancellor ‘inappropriate’ Palestinian leader: Moving Israel embassy could jeopardize peace process UN leader willing to meet lawmakers amid push to cut funding MORE last week in a letter made public Tuesday. 

The Palestinian Authority [PA] will formally join the ICC on April 1, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said recently. Earlier this month, an ICC prosecutor opened a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes committed by Israel during the war in Gaza last summer. 

“This development is deeply troubling,” the letter said.

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The State Department, the lawmakers said, are in the process of conducting a review of U.S. aid to the Palestinians because of their latest actions. 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.

The letter was signed by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) as well as Reps. Ted PoeTed PoeOvernight Cybersecurity: Lawmakers pushing for vote to delay warrant rule changes Coons to call for voice vote to halt changes to hacking rule The right person for State Department is Rudy Giuliani MORE (R-Texas), William Keating (D-Mass.), Matt SalmonMatt SalmonWhat gun groups want from Trump Ryan delays committee assignments until 2017 GOP lawmakers praise Trump for Taiwan call MORE (R-Ariz.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

The bipartisan group is among a growing number of lawmakers warning the Palestinians the U.S. could halt economic assistance. During a recent trip to Israel, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGraham, Cruz proposal to defund the U.N. is misguided 9 GOP senators Trump must watch out for UN leader willing to meet lawmakers amid push to cut funding MORE (R-S.C.) warned the PA the aid would be cut if it successfully files a lawsuit against Israel at the ICC.

Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulSanders, Dems defend ObamaCare at Michigan rally Paul: Medicaid expansion 'the big question' Rand Paul: ObamaCare replacement goal is to insure most people at lowest cost MORE (R-Ky.), a likely 2016 presidential contender, has also introduced legislation that would cut off aid until the Palestinians withdraw their ICC bid.

A top Palestinian diplomat has been lobbying pro-Israel lawmakers that cutting off aid would ultimately backfire and harm U.S. national security.

An upcoming trip for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington in March, however, could heat up the debate even further on Capitol Hill. Netanyahu is expected to address Congress — less than a month before the PA joins the ICC — on the dangers of a nuclear deal with Iran. 

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