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US Congress blocks $159 million in aid to PA

March 20, 2016 6:17 P.M. (Updated: March 24, 2016 4:47 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Members of the United States Congress are delaying a payment of $159 million in aid allocated for the Palestinian Authority in effort to pressure the PA to relaunch negotiations with Israel, the PLO ambassador to Washington said Saturday.

Maen Erekat confirmed earlier reports that the US Congress was blocking the payment at the request of House Republican Kay Granger, the Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations, under the pretext that the PA supports “terrorism.”

The Obama administration allocated $440 million in aid to Palestinians for 2015, including $131 million for economic and development projects by USAID and $70 million for PA agencies and security agencies, while $80 million in aid was deducted following Israeli criticism of "incitement" by the PA last October.

Erekat added that some “pro-Israel” congress members are continuing to pressure the PA to relaunch diplomatic negotiations with Israel, and prevent Palestinians from joining international organizations and conventions.

The PA last year officially requested to join 15 international conventions, including membership in the International Criminal Court, which would allow war crimes complaints to be filed against Israel.

US congress members previously attempted to block aid for Palestinians in 2011 in response to the PA bid for full UN membership, but the hold was eventually lifted.

On March 12, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi conducted a series of meetings in Washington, D.C., during which she discussed peace negotiations with Israel and urged US Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley to pressure House Republicans to release the $159 million in aid.

The White House is considering backing a UN Security Council resolution outlining parameters for future peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leadership before Obama leaves office in January 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported this month.

US Vice President Joe Biden also visited Tel Aviv earlier this month, just as multiple attacks were carried out by Palestinian individuals in Israel and occupied Palestinian territory, one of which left an American tourist dead.

During his visit, Biden said Israel could not stop violent acts carried out by Palestinians solely through physical force.

The vice president also condemned the attacks -- as well as the failure by Palestinian leadership to condemn the attacks -- during a joint press conference, according to AP.

While US-Israel relations have seen a series of diplomatic disputes during Obama’s administration, Israel remains the number one long-time recipient of US military aid, and discussions regarding a new aid agreement have been ongoing.
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