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Some pro-Israel groups defend U.S. aid to Palestinians

Sep 13, 2011, 10:09 p.m.

By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Worried about possible U.S. aid cuts to the Palestinians, some American Jewish groups find themselves in the peculiar position of defending the funding, particularly money that supports Palestinian security forces.

The Congress has threatened to review the roughly $500 million in annual aid to the Palestinians if they seek full membership at the United Nations, a step opposed by Israel and the United States.

Of the $513.4 million in such aid the Obama administration has requested for the year beginning October 1, $113 million would help strengthen Palestinian security forces and improve rule of law in the West Bank.

Such aid is seen as crucial to reducing violence and to promoting security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel that could be jeopardized if the Palestinians go forward at the United Nations.

It is difficult for pro-Israel groups to publicly support maintaining aid to the Palestinians given the Palestinians' stated determination to flout the wishes of the United States.

However, at least two groups have explicitly done so -- The Israel Project, which says it has laid out an argument to members of Congress that U.S. security aid should not be cut; and J Street, which has issued a statement defending the aid.

"We have made the case that the security cooperation, which is largely funded and supported by America, needs to continue if we want to see the progress ... in reducing terrorism continue," The Israel Project's president, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, told Reuters, stressing her group does not lobby.

J Street said last week: "We must make clear to American politicians, particularly in Congress, that being pro-Israel does not require cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority in retaliation for approaching the U.N.

"Such a move will hurt Israel's interests by undermining moderate Palestinian leadership and defunding productive security cooperation."

'THE GOOSE THAT LAYS THE GOLDEN EGGS'

Elliott Abrams, a former aide to President George W. Bush now at the Council on Foreign Relations, said "there are grave doubts about significant cuts in aid to the Palestinian Authority" within American Jewish organizations.

"The security assistance case is more obvious because this ... has been in our national interest and it has also helped Israel a good deal," said Abrams, who is to testify on the issue before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday.

"But the doubts extend to the nonsecurity aid as well because the question is: what will happen if the PA collapses? Won't that simply create greater and more difficult responsibilities for Israel?" he added.

Other analysts suggested aid cuts could not only undermine security but also the Palestinian Authority itself and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who has reformed its governance.

"He's the goose that lays the golden eggs. With no eggs, I don't think he wants to stick around," said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank. "That means the person who has been the driving force of security cooperation, the driver of institution building, he is gone."

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