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Tough Questions for U.S. State Dept. Spokeswoman

U.S. State Department Spokeswoman grilled over the cutting of funds to UNESCO and Israel's sanctions on the PA.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 11/3/2011, 11:48 AM

The United States has been facing tough questions from reporters this week, following its decision to cut off funding to UNESCO after the UN body accepted the Palestinian Authority as a full member.

Israel’s decision to sanction the PA and accelerate the construction of Jewish homes in east Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria has also raised questions by reporters.

On Tuesday, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was grilled by reporter Matthew Lee of The Associated Press. Lee questioned the U.S. decision to cut off funding to UNESCO while at the same time trying to convince Congress not to cut the security aid the U.S. gives to the PA.

“What exactly have you told the Palestinians that you’re going to do if they continue to do this?” Lee asked Nuland. “You’re opposed to it, and yet you’re still fighting for them to get funding from Congress while you have warned the Palestinians about the mood on the Hill. You have also taken the unprecedented step of asking Israeli officials, including the prime minister, to call members of Congress and tell them to continue to support funding for the Palestinians. So I don’t understand how the Administration, on one hand, is punishing UNESCO for this and yet you’re not doing anything to the very people that made this a problem in the first place.”

Nuland said in response, “We’re cutting off UNESCO funding because we have legislation on the books, we have U.S. law that requires this in the event of any effort to gain statehood this way.”

“At the same time,” she added, “we believe that the security support that the United States provides to the Palestinian Authority supports peace and increasing strength of local authorities to provide for the security of their own people, and that’s very important.”

On Wednesday, Nuland faced questions about Israel’s response to the PA’s unilateral moves – cutting the payment of taxes to the PA and approving more than 2,000 housing units in east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

Responding to a question about whether the U.S. believes Israel's moves are counterproductive, Nuland said that the U.S. is “deeply disappointed” by Israel’s decision to accelerate construction, adding that “we’ve also said that we believe that the regular transfer of money, whether it’s U.S. money, whether it’s Israeli money, is important and should continue to be made.”

“These are key to strengthening Palestinian institutions and are necessary for funding future of the state,” she added.

Asked whether she believes the PA’s “very symbolic vote at UNESCO” is equivalent to Israel’s sanctions, Nuland said, “I think our concern is that neither of these sets of actions is helpful to the environment of getting back to the negotiating table. So we’re trying to get these parties into a positive cycle of engagement and trying to encourage them to come back to the table, and that’s going to continue to be our focus.”

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu defended the decision to accelerate Jewish construction.

“We have the right to build in our eternal capital,” he asserted. “It is our privilege and responsibility for this generation and the next – not as punishment, but as a basic right.”

Netanyahu, who spoke in the Knesset’s plenum at a memorial for assassinated Israeli lawmaker Rehavam Ze’evi, said, “All who love Jerusalem should learn from [Ze’evi]. We must protect its unity, stop those who try to rewrite its history, and remind the world over and over again that Jerusalem was never the capital of any other nation.”