US freezes $200m in aid to Palestinians
Washington - Key US lawmakers are blocking about $200m in Palestinian aid in response to the territories' UN statehood bid, congressional aides said on Saturday.
Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have frozen the funding "until the Palestinian statehood issue is sorted out", one of the aides told AFP.
The economic package is separate from security aid, which the US lawmakers say would be counterproductive to block. They fear that withholding those funds would weaken the ability of Palestinian security forces to quell anti-Israel violence.
A coalition of Israel-backing Democrats and conservative Republican lawmakers are angered by the Palestinian bid for United Nations membership. Both the United States and Israel insist that only direct negotiations can produce an accord leading to Palestinian statehood.
US lawmakers earlier warned against the Palestinian bid.
"There must be consequences for Palestinian and UN actions that undermine any hope for true and lasting peace," Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on September 23.
Representative Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the House panel that oversees foreign aid, warned that the annual $500m in economic and security assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) was at risk.
Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the number-two House Democrat, representative Steny Hoyer, have accused Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas of shunning direct peace talks in favour of "diplomatic warfare" against Israel.
"Congress will not sit idly by. The US will likely reconsider its assistance programme for the PA and other aspects of US-Palestinian relations should the Palestinians choose to move forward in requesting a vote on statehood," they said in a joint September 22 opinion article in the New York Daily News.