U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the following opening statement this morning at a Committee hearing titled, "Promoting Peace? Reexamining U.S. Aid to the Palestinian Authority, Part II." To view the video, click Chairman Ros-Lehtinen Opening Statement. For witness testimony, click here. Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:
"Today's hearing is part of a broader oversight effort by the Committee to examine U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority, and U.S. policy options to address the troubling turn of events regarding the PA's activities.
"First, I would like to thank my friend and colleague, Mr. Chabot, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia for assisting us in elevating this hearing to the Full Committee.
"We stand at a critical juncture with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which will inevitably have a major impact throughout the region. Events appear to be headed in an increasingly negative direction, and regrettably, the Administration has been slow to take action. The most recent challenge to the peace process is the Palestinians' intention to seek membership in the United Nations as the "State of Palestine' but without having made any effort to seriously negotiate with Israel.
"After weeks of uncertainty and drift, the Administration has finally pledged that if the Palestinians go to the UN Security Council and ask for UN membership for a "State of Palestine,' the U.S. will veto the resolution. But the Administration's waiting until the 11th hour to make this announcement wasted a critical opportunity to prevent the problem from building.
"This sits in stark contrast to the decisiveness that the Truman Administration displayed with respect to Israel. As Clark Clifford reportedly remarked to President Truman on the eve of Israel's independence, when much of the cabinet was arrayed against the decision to recognize the State of Israel:
"In an area as unstable as the Middle East, where there is not now and never has been any tradition of democratic government, it is important for the long-range security of our country, and indeed the world, that a nation committed to the democratic system be established there, one on which we can rely. The new Jewish state can be such a place. We should strengthen it in its infancy by prompt recognition.'
"The United States was indeed the first country to recognize the State of Israel; and Israel today is such a government and ally. Strong U.S. leadership in this tradition would have drawn a bright line that other responsible nations could have rallied behind with respect to the Palestinian unilateral scheme.
"Now, however, because the Palestinians have been allowed to mobilize support, they will probably go to the General Assembly, where the U.S. does not have a veto, and ask for explicit recognition of a Palestinian state or implicit recognition through an upgrade in their status at the UN. This tactic would enable the Palestinians to seek full membership in other UN agencies.
"Given that we know that this is likely to happen, we have time to take action to minimize the damage. In 1989, Yasser Arafat's PLO tried to do the same thing that Abu Mazen's PLO is doing: seeking de facto recognition of a "Palestinian state' from the UN through agencies such as the World Health Organization. The PLO seemed assured of victory, and Israel seemed bound for international isolation. But then the George H.W. Bush Administration, which is highly regarded to this day for its success in multilateral diplomacy, made a bold pledge: the U.S. would withhold funding to any UN entity that granted membership, or any upgraded status, to the PLO. The PLO's scheme was stopped dead in its tracks. The Administration should use the same funding conditions that worked two decades ago to stop Abu Mazen's dangerous unilateral scheme today.
"This controversy regarding unilateral statehood reflects a broader failure by the Palestinian leadership to meet their obligations. They continue to engage in anti-Israel incitement and to glorify violent extremism. They refuse to negotiate directly with Israel, and refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Most troubling of all, they have aligned themselves with Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, whose stated objective is the elimination of the state of Israel and all of its Jewish citizens.
"Despite decades of assistance totaling billions of dollars, if a Palestinian State were declared today, it would be neither democratic nor peaceful nor willing to negotiate with Israel. By providing the Palestinians with $2.5 billion over the last five years, the U.S. has only rewarded and reinforced their bad behavior. It raises tough questions as to just what are the tangible benefits for the U.S., or for lasting peace and security between Israel and the Palestinians, derived from decades of assistance provided by the United States taxpayers.
"Palestinian leaders are not going to make the tough decisions and change their ways unless compelled to. If progress is to be made the Administration must stop looking for ways to circumvent requirements that the PA must meet certain criteria before they can receive U.S. aid. These conditions call for the Palestinians to:
* completely abandon their unilateral efforts to secure recognition as an independent state;
* tear up their agreements with Hamas;
* return to direct negotiations with Israel;
* stop anti-Israel incitement and begin preparing the Palestinian people for peace with Israel; and
* recognize Israel's right to exist as a democratic, Jewish state.
"We hope that these conditions will be met.
"I would appreciate our witnesses addressing the most effective course of action to achieve these objectives."