US withholding of Palestinian aid is self-defeating

The US lawmaker who has been blocking foreign aid spending for the Palestinians demonstrates the pettiness and dysfunctionality of Congress.

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Self-righteous Americans who like to lecture Middle Eastern countries about good governance should take a close look at their own Congress.

A single lawmaker there has now, finally, lifted her ban on $88.6 million (Dh325.5mn) in aid for the Palestinians. This much-needed money, stalled for six months, will finally flow to water and public-health projects in the Occupied Territories.

But Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, a powerful Cuban-American Republican in the US House of Representatives, is still single-handedly blocking another $58.6 million in aid. And the money that she has allowed to go through comes with ridiculous conditions attached: none can go to Gaza, none can be used for road construction in the West Bank, none can be used to promote tourism or trade …

The US Congress is dysfunctional in many ways; one of these is that it permits ill-qualified legislators with little perspective to "hold" funds, blocking administration plans designed to serve the broad US interest.

President Barack Obama and some of his top officials have called repeatedly for all the Palestinian aid money to be freed up, because the projects will, by helping the long-suffering Palestinian people, bolster the Palestinian Authority as it supervises the programmes.

Just last week a top US spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, expressed concern with the fragility of PA institutions, on the implicit grounds that the PA is essential to any hope of regional stability. In this view of the aid money the administration is not alone: last December even Israel's ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, said the Congressional hold on the funds should be lifted.

Needless to say the US does not delay, or tie petty strings to, its aid to Israel: last week Mrs Ros-Lehtinen herself introduced a bill which would help Israel borrow more cheaply in the US by using US government loan guarantees - a measure opposed by the Obama administration. She is also a strong backer of a draft Iron Dome Support Act to subsidise Israel's anti-rocket defences.

Mrs Ros-Lehtinen represents the Miami area, which has a substantial Jewish population, and pro-Israel individuals and organisations are leading donors to her re-election campaigns.

It is all, we suppose, what starry-eyed America-boosters call "democracy in action" but this kind of nonsense ultimately does the US more harm than good - not to mention the further damage it inflicts on the Palestinians.