Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, blasted the Obama administration on Wednesday for giving the Palestinian Authority a “blank check” while pressuring Israel, signaling that a Republican-led House would complicate one of the major prongs of the White House’s emerging strategy for moving forward with the peace process.
With direct talks between the two sides stalled, the administration announced last week it planned to intensify Palestinian state-building as a means of making progress on the ground toward a peace agreement for a two-state solution. The US has supplied hundreds of millions of dollars toward this end, with the expectation that it would now, if anything, be increasing its assistance.
But Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who will become the chairwoman of the influential committee in January, criticized the current approach to US funding for the PA in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
“It’s a bailout for them which provides no incentives for them to reform. So they know they don’t have to do a darn thing – with this administration they will get a blank check and they will always get helped out,” she said of over $200 million in American funds the Palestinians received this past year alone.
“I think that’s the wrong approach, when we’re forcing the Israelis to make concessions and we’re giving the Palestinians anything they want,” she said.
Though many in the US administration and even some in Israel’s government have praised the work of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who under President Mahmoud Abbas oversees the institution-building and training of Palestinian security forces facilitated by the United States, Ros- Lehtinen urged close scrutiny of their activities.
“This feeling that Abbas and Fayyad are the good guys – if they’re the good guys, then we should start praying for Israel’s safety right now, because these are folks who have not wanted to be true partners for peace,” she said. “These guys are moderate when you consider that they’re not as extreme as [Hamas], but they’re not the epitome of democratic governance or openness or transparency.”
She also denounced the Obama administration’s treatment of Israel, including its focus on settlements.
“I believe we have had the wrong approach in the Obama administration of pressuring Israel to make concessions and appeasing enemies like Iran and Syria,” she said. “It’s shameful to make public statements about Israel as if a housing complex is an impediment to peace while the Palestinians’ so-called leaders get away with murder.”
Ros-Lehtinen said that support and aid for Israel – which is currently around $3 billion a year – would remain strong even under the budget-conscious GOP, but that the amount it received could be reduced if there were wideranging cuts, as the party has promised.
“I don’t know what the leadership wants to do in terms of levels of funding. If they say 5 percent across the board for everybody, then that’s the way it is,” she explained, but added that she supported an idea floated by incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) to consider aid to Israel separately from other countries.
“What we would like to see is that countries that have been hard hit by natural disasters or hard-hit by thugs that surround them, that those countries will be in a special category,” she said, giving Israel and Haiti as examples.
Ros-Lehtinen also criticized any implication that Israel should be the state to confront Iran should military action be necessary.
“I don’t like the fact that our options are always, well, let Israel take care of it. It seems to be that that’s what we’re saying all the time,” she said. “Our message should be that all options are on the table and that we say it and convince people that we mean it, because we should be meaning it.”
Ros-Lehtinen said she intended to introduce legislation in the coming session to close loopholes in the Iran sanctions act passed this summer and push the State Department to do more to punish Russian and Chinese companies that continue to do business with Teheran. She also plans to refile a bill on UN reform, which includes provisions to push for changes at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and to remove the US from the Human Rights Council.
“UNWRA has been a tool used by the extremists of the Palestinian groups to bash Israel,” she said. “And a lot of the taxpayer dollars that go to the UN Human Rights Council – I believe in zapping those tax dollars. We can put that money to better uses.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Ros- Lehtinen joined the rest of the House in passing a non-binding resolution calling on US President Barack Obama to veto any attempt by the Palestinians to have the UN Security Council unilaterally declare statehood.
The resolution, sponsored by current House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-California) as well as Ros-Lehtinen, also lends “strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states, a democratic, Jewish State of Israel and a viable, democratic Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition.”
Passage of the resolution was welcomed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which said in a statement that the organization “supports the House’s call for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its strong opposition to efforts to seek recognition of a Palestinian state outside of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.”
The PLO’s Washington delegation, however, expressed its “deep disappointment” in the vote.
“A declaration of statehood that is coordinated with organizations like the United Nations and members of the international community would not be a ‘unilateral’ step. This was, in fact, how the State of Israel came into being in 1948,” the PLO mission said in a statement.
“Members of Congress who are truly concerned about the safety and security of Israelis should recognize that they will never be safeguarded until Palestinians gain their freedom and legal rights,” it continued. “They should work to support the efforts of President Obama and his administration to bring peace to the region, rather than obstructing them and passing resolutions that hinder that effort.”
– Prophecy News Watch