House Middle East subcommittee considers PA corruption

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The House Middle East subcommittee considered reports of Palestinian corruption and how the reports should affect U.S. assistance to the Palestinians.

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Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee who convened the hearing on Tuesday, said assistance should take into account whether the recipients are corrupt.

“Our objective cannot and must not be to strengthen whoever recites the same prescribed lines about negotiations,” he said. “Rather, our policy must aim to empower those leaders who genuinely seek to establish the transparent and accountable institutions of government that will be necessary for any future Palestinian state to be viable and able to live side by side with Israel in peace, security and prosperity.”

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) said that while consideration of corruption is important, equally as important were how such considerations might constrain advancing U.S. policy, including a two-state solution outcome.

“How do we move forward toward a peace that enables Israel to remain secure as both a democratic and Jewish state, and for the Palestinians to have a national homeland of their own that poses no threat to others?” he said. “That’s the central question and the point from which our assessments about the seriousness of corruption must begin.”

Ackerman also noted how allegations of Israeli corruption have hindered advancing the peace process, citing the allegations that drove Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from office just as he seemed to be nearing a deal with the Palestinians.

Witnesses, including Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser who is now with the Council on Foreign Relations, reported on the reluctance of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to investigate corruption except when it is useful as a tool to undermine his rivals. They also said that PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was trustworthy but also hamstrung in part by restrictions imposed by Abbas.

The witnesses also stopped short of recommending a total cutoff of assistance to the Palestinian Authority; Schanzer, for instance, noted that such a vacuum would soon be filled by Iran.

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