Two and a half months after the U.S. Congress froze about $200 million in development aid to the Palestinian Authority in response to its unilateral quest for recognition at the United Nations, the Israeli government has publicly urged Congress to unfreeze the aid. Israel has thus validated what many long said (and indeed what the Israelis themselves apparently would confirm in private): aid to the P.A., even after it went against the United States and Israel at the U.N., is in Israeli interests. Continuing to freeze the aid would be, as one expert put it to me at the time, “more Israeli than Israel.”
In a statement first reported by Ben Smith, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said: “The Israeli government would welcome the decision to lift the congressional hold on U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.” He added, “We appreciate that the hold was placed to demonstrate to the Palestinians the consequences of their attempts to declare statehood unilaterally at the United Nations, without making lasting peace with Israel.”
When the hold was first placed, I spoke to Anthony H. Cordesman, a longtime regional expert, first at the Pentagon and now at the Center for Strategic International Studies. “There is no debate over the value about this type of aid, in serving not only Palestinian but Israeli interests,” he told me. Halting the aid “doesn’t do Israel any good. All it does is create more potential for some kind of Palestinian rioting or protest and convince more people in the Arab world that they can’t work with Israel, the United States, and the peace process.”
“The truth is,” Cordesman added, “there is a very unfortunate tendency as you head toward an election year to have certain American political figures try to be more Israeli than Israel, and to in the process show no regard for Israel’s really existing interests or even for the cautions that come out of Israeli experts.” Freezing aid, he maintained, “is an exercise in political opportunism, in which just appearing to be pro-Israeli, as opposed to the reality, is the goal.”
The Israeli government just backed him up. How will Congress respond?