U.S. frets Palestinian 'sustainability'

March 21, 2012 at 2:30 AM
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BRUSSELS, March 21 (UPI) -- The White House wants to build Palestinian resources, the State Department said, as U.S. and other envoys were to meet to boost Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

"We are concerned about the fact that we haven't been able to provide full funding" to the Palestinian National Authority, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, as the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia -- known as the Quartet on the Middle East -- were to meet in Brussels Wednesday.

"We want to continue to work together as a Quartet community on how we can improve the long-term sustainability of Palestinian institution-building projects and how the Palestinian Authority can get stronger in meeting the full range of civil and security needs of their people now and in the future," Nuland said.

"So this is something that we need to work on together," she told reporters in Washington Tuesday. "We think it's in the interest of Palestinians. It's in the interest of Israelis."

The Quartet mediators were to discuss Palestinian state-building efforts and lay the groundwork for a meeting in Washington next month of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and top EU and Russian diplomats, Nuland said.

The sides have said they hope to reach a final peace accord by the end of the year.

While Nuland was talking about supporting Palestinian institutions, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., questioned the Obama administration's request for $147 million in Palestinian Authority assistance.

"Among the arguments utilized is that Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] needs to be supported because he's 'all we have,'" she told U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah during a committee hearing Tuesday.

"However, the administration is not demanding that Abu Mazen return to the negotiation table with Israel without preconditions, nor that he stop his unilateral statehood scheme at the (United Nations)," she said. "The administration also says we need to help 'rebuild the Palestinian economy' -- this at a time when our economy is facing serious challenges and Americans are suffering."

House Republicans can understand funding Palestinian food, water and health programs, she told Shah.

But she asked him to justify in writing "$2.9 million for trade facilitation, $4.5 million for tourism promotion and $8.1 million for road construction."

"Specifically, I would ask that you justify a total of $26.4 million in 'reconstruction and recovery' for Hamas-run Gaza," she said.

Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni Islamic political party governing the Gaza Strip that the United States, EU, Israel, Japan and Canada classify as a terrorist organization.

Hamas has refused to accept conditions set by the Quartet peacemakers, including renouncing violence, recognizing Israel's right to exist and accepting earlier agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

After Hamas swept Gaza parliamentary elections in 2006, Israel and Egypt imposed a strict economic embargo on the area, allowing in only basic supplies.

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