JERUSALEM, Israel -- Palestinian Authority officials called the $200 million freeze in U.S. aid to the P.A., announced earlier this week, "political blackmail."
The U.S. Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee voted to "freeze" the funds -- less than half of the nearly $500 million in annual aid -- pending the resolution of the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations two weeks ago.
"There must be consequences for Palestinian and U.N. actions that undermine any hope for true and lasting peace," committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said.
Fatah spokesman Faiz Abu Aytah called U.S. aid a "political right" because America is the "patron for the agreements signed between the PLO and the Israeli government."
Aytah said the U.S. and other donor countries are "morally responsible for the human tragedy that has befallen the Palestinian people since the Nakba [catastrophe, the term Palestinian Arabs use to describe the rebirth of Israel in 1948]," the Palestinian Media Watch reported.
Despite opposition by the U.S., Israel and others to the U.N. bid, and the Quartet's proposal to complete negotiations for a two-state solution within a year, the P.A. refuses to be deterred in its quest for unilateral statehood.
"Israel has welcomed the decision of the Quartet [U.S., E.U., U.N. and Russia] to support the resumption of peace talks without preconditions," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, told CBN News Thursday.
"We have repeatedly said so over the last two years, and the ball is in the Palestinians' court. They have to decide if they really want peace or [if] they stubbornly stick to a rejectionist position that refuses to engage with Israel," he said.
Meanwhile, a majority of the 58-member board of UNESCO, the UN's cultural arm, decided to allow its 193 member nations to vote on admitting the P.A. to their organization, in effect preempting the vote at the end of the month.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advised the UNESCO board to rethink its decision.
Speaking at a meeting in Santo Domingo, Clinton urged the "governing body of UNESCO to think again before proceeding with that vote," saying the U.S. could respond by cutting its funding to the group.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the P.A.'s request for membership in UNESCO negated "both the bilateral negotiations…and the Quartet's proposal for continuing the diplomatic process."
"Their actions are a negative response to Israel's and the international community's efforts to promote the peace process," the Foreign Ministry said.
Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman called UNESCO's actions "woefully premature and dangerously inappropriate."
"The Palestinians have unduly politicized this body, and if this action is approved by the full membership, it risks undermining the truly important work of UNESCO," Foxman said.
Regev called the P.A.'s "ongoing [overall] process" at the U.N. a "mistake."
"We see the Palestinian action at the U.N. as part of their strategy not to engage with Israel," he said. "We think it's a mistake, and we hope the Palestinians will reverse course -- that they will take a step back and return to peace talks.
"After all, the U.N. has been passing resolutions for a generation, none of which have contributed to peace in the Middle East, none of which have given the Palestinians anything substantive," he said.
Regev called the P.A.'s demand to freeze construction in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem as a precondition to direct negotiations "an excuse."
"We did an unprecedented 10-month building freeze that didn't seem to help at all. You know it's very interesting because the Palestinians said they wanted a freeze, we did a freeze and they actually didn't come to negotiate," he said, calling the issue "an excuse they're using and not a real issue."
"We believe the status of the settlements must be resolved in negotiations, but the whole idea that the very minimal building Israel is doing today is somehow an obstacle to peace, we don't believe that's true," he said.
In a related incident on Tuesday, Palestinian protesters blocked a convoy of American diplomats on their way to a U.S.-sponsored reception in Ramallah celebrating educational and cultural projects for Arab residents.
The demonstrators trying to boycott the reception held placards reading "Veto America" and "No to American Funds," The Associated Press reported.
Palestinian police intervened to allow the convoy to pass, but the protesters managed to intimidate some local residents, who decided to forego the reception, according to the report.