How Did Rand Paul Become the GOP's Point Man on Cutting Funds to the Palestinians?

The rise of an unexpected hawk.
Photographer: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

The international furor over the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris has obscured this a bit, but the Senate's foreign policy week was supposed to begin with a fight about Palestine. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who has never won over the more hawkish or pro-Israel voices in his party, rushed out a bill that would end all American aid to the Palestinian Authority unless its leaders ended their bid to join the International Criminal Court. (The news was broken by the Washington Free Beacon's Adam Kredo, whose colleague Alana Goodman had given Paul some of his worst-ever press with 2013 stories about a key staffer who'd moonlighted as a neo-confederate shock jock.)

Paul's bill came as a surprise because this issue was 1) a shift away from the status quo on PA funding and 2) one that had previously belonged to senators who rarely agreed with him. As John Hudson wrote in Foreign Policy, aid for the PA had been sacrosanct for years, and a previous Paul stab at the money was opposed by the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee. (Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist supportive of Israel's government and held in little esteem by the Paul network, called this a failure of "Paul's phony pro-Israel bill".) Yet this week, Israeli's Likud-led government was supportive of efforts to defund the PA.

That was good news for the senators, led by South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, who'd been threatening to cut aid to Palestinians for years. In the last Congress, Graham brought New York Senator Chuck Schumer aboard on legislation that would have ended aid to the PA "in the event of ICC adjudication of of Palestinian matters." On Wednesday, Graham did not reject Paul's bill, but suggested that the original group of senators would have a better one.

"It needs to be bipartisan," Graham said after a vote in the Senate. "We've already got legislation in place that cuts off funding and suspends the PLO office if they bring a case against the ICC. We'll probably revise that to say, if they become a member of the ICC."

In the meantime, Paul's RAND PAC was already running web ads asking donors to sign on if they agreed with his bill.

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The fast rallying around the dump-the-PA cause worried advocates for the Palestinians. Bills like Paul's were "almost certainly self-defeating," said Hussein Ibish, senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, in a conversation on Twitter. "Last time this was tried the long run effect was the downfall of Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad, now seen as a fiasco."

Ibish was referring to the 2013 resignation of a PA leader that the West had largely wanted to stick around. He expected the PA's talks with the ICC to proceed in exactly the manner that scared hawks.

"They will join [the ICC]," Ibish said. "Defunding the PA in response would be deeply ill-advised to say the least."

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