The United States said Monday it was reviewing its annual $440-million aid package to the Palestinian Authority (PA) because of its effort to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) to pursue war-crimes charges against Israel, reports The Associated Press (AP).
The PA formally presented a request to the United Nations on Friday to join the ICC, in a move firmly opposed by both Israel and the United States.
“We’re deeply troubled by the Palestinian action,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday, adding that joining the court “is entirely counterproductive and does nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state. It badly damages the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace.”
At the same time, Psaki also criticized Israel’s move to freeze the transfer of tax revenues to the PA in retaliation for its bid to join the ICC, saying it was a step “that raises tensions as others do.”
Under American law, noted AP, any PA case against Israel at the court would trigger an immediate cutoff of U.S. financial support. Membership itself, however, doesn’t automatically incur U.S. punishment.
Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the matter by telephone over the weekend with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Other American officials spoke with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, hoping to dissuade him from his course.
The administration is reviewing its assistance to the Palestinians to ensure it complies with U.S. law, Psaki said, adding there is a range of ways for the U.S. to respond, but suggested none would happen immediately.
In September of 2011, a $192 million aid package was frozen by Congress after the PA submitted a failed unilateral bid for United Nations membership.
Members of Congress later released $40 million in economic and humanitarian funding for the PA, saying it is “vital to establishing and strengthening the foundations necessary for a future Palestinian state.”
In April of 2012, President Barack Obama bypassed a Congress block and signed a waiver declaring that aid to the Palestinian Authority is “important to the security interests of the United States.”