WASHINGTON – The senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee (search) said Thursday he would condition U.S. aid to the Palestinians on oil-rich Arab "deadbeats" making good on their own promised contributions.
The assertion by Rep. Tom Lantos (search), D-Calif., at a hearing on Mideast peace prospects drew swift endorsement from the leadoff witness, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
"I think it is reasonable that the surrounding Arab states that have resources should at least match U.S. support," Kissinger said.
Lantos said he backed President Bush's request that Congress double to $350 million U.S. aid to the Palestinians to help their economy and to improve security measures against terror groups.
But Lantos said he would urge Congress to insist that the Palestinian Authority (search) fight terrorism and that Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab oil states, which he said reaped $40 billion in windfall profits last year, make good on their pledges of $400 million.
Those three Persian Gulf countries "lead the list of deadbeats, in arrears to the Palestinian Authority," Lantos said. And in light of Kuwait's liberation from Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, "it is especially disgraceful" it is on the list.
The $400 million owed the Palestinians, Lantos said, is only 1 percent of what the rich Arab oil states obtained from high oil prices.
"I would like to see the Arabs whose payments are in arrears honor their commitments rather than welshing on them," the senior Democrat said.
At the same time, Lantos said the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas (search), "will have to show backbone" by dismantling terror groups.
"He will either defeat them, or they will defeat him," Lantos said.
Kissinger, meanwhile, saw the best opportunity in decades for Mideast peacemaking in Abbas succeeding Yasser Arafat and Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon offering to withdraw from Gaza and part of the West Bank.
But, Kissinger also said, "there can be no solution without a tremendous change in attitude, particularly propaganda," in Arab countries in the region.