WASHINGTON -- The long, meandering path for nearly $150 million in funds for development projects in the Palestinian territories inched closer to a resolution on Friday afternoon, when a key legislator lifted her hold on the release of the funds.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, announced that she was ending her restriction on the funds, which were supposed to have been spent last year, after being satisfied that the release of the aid was in the interests of peace and stability in the Middle East. The funds were held up by legislators last fall, after the Palestinian Authority proposed seeking recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations.
"I have taken a strong position on aid to the P.A. to send a message that seeking statehood at the United Nations, forming a unity government with Hamas and walking away from the negotiating table with Israel were not pathways to peace," Granger said. "Right now it is in our interest -- and the interest of our allies in the region -- to allow aid to flow to address security and humanitarian concerns."
But the saga of the money is not over just yet. A second hold on the funds, placed by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), had not been lifted as of Friday afternoon.
Brad Goehner, a spokesman on the Foreign Affairs Committee for Ros-Lehtinen, told The Huffington Post that Ros-Lehtinen was "not releasing the full amount," and said more details on her plan would be forthcoming. Ros-Lehtinen had previously proposed releasing about half of the money rather than the full allotment.
The move comes at the end of a week of intensive negotiations between legislators and the State Department, first reported by The Huffington Post, over the release of the aid. Nongovernmental organizations that are dependent on U.S. funding for their operations have said that without an infusion of money, they would have to start shutting down their operations by April.
Congressional sources told HuffPost that a release by Granger alone might signify a failure to get Ros-Lehtinen to agree to it, and could open the door to the State Department spending the money over Ros-Lehtinen's objections. Congressional holds, particularly in the House of Representatives, are more a matter of courtesy than legal obligation.
The State Department has consistently said that it sees "significant value" in providing the money to NGOs in the West Bank. A spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment on the latest actions.
UPDATE: 7:07 p.m. --Ros-Lehtinen has released a letter indicating that after "a careful review," she is willing to release up to $88.6 million of the aid, provided it meets certain conditions. Among uses of that aid that she said she would not permit: tourism promotion, scholarships for Palestinian students, non-security related road-building projects, and any aid to Gaza.