U.S. asks PA for return of $50 million

By Shmuel Rosner

Haaretz

Shvat 22, 5766

WASHINGTON - The United States has asked the Palestinian Authority to return $50 million in U.S. aid as part of a review of all U.S. aid for the Palestinians, which began soon after Hamas' surprise win in elections last month.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the caretaker government of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to return the $50 million, which was given to the PA last year for infrastructure projects after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

"In the interests of seeing that these funds not potentially make their way into the coffers of a future Palestinian government (made up of Hamas) ... we have asked for it to be returned and the Palestinian Authority has agreed," McCormack told reporters.

Over the past decade, the United States has given about $1.5 billion in aid to the Palestinians. Most of that was channeled via non-governmental organizations.

If passed, new legislation introduced to Congress several weeks ago will enforce a halt of all U.S. funding to organizations and institutions related to the PA.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meanwhile cautioned Iran and other Middle East powers on Friday of the consequences for the region of giving money to a Palestinian government led by Hamas. She also expressed doubt that the militant Islamic group could raise badly needed international financing unless it changes its policies.

Mideast implications

"I would hope that any state that is considering funding Hamas, a Hamas-led government, would think about the implications of that for the Middle East" and for the goal of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Rice said.

In an interview with a panel of Arab journalists, Rice delivered a new and blunt warning to Iran.

"Iran has its own troubles with the international community, and it might want to think twice about enhancing those troubles" by bankrolling Hamas, Rice said.

Rice's upcoming trip to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is expected to be dominated by discussion of Hamas' surprise election victory and the separate issue of Iran's disputed nuclear program. The Palestinian Authority gets most of its approximately $1.9 billion annual budget from overseas sources. Without money from the United States, Israel and perhaps Europe, a Hamas-led government would be nearly broke.

Hamas leaders have said they will look elsewhere for money and are expected to appeal to Arab states and Iran.

"It will be very interesting to see if that $1.9 billion is available," Rice said with evident skepticism.