Leading article: Unjust punishment of the Palestinians

Heavy-handed threats to cut aid to the Palestinians if Mahmoud Abbas went ahead with a bid for UN statehood were bad enough. That the US Congress is now putting such bullying tactics into practice is shameful.

As this newspaper reveals today, just days after Mr Abbas lodged his application at the UN, Congress is blocking $200m worth of aid to the impoverished region. The move should be universally condemned.

The most compelling argument is one of common decency. While $200m may be chicken feed in the context of Washington's multi-billion-dollar aid budget, such sums go a long way in the impoverished Palestinian territories. The funding block will hit a string of vital state-building efforts – from the supplies for the World Food Programme, to teacher training schemes, to major infrastructure projects.

If the quality of life of ordinary Palestinians is not sufficient reason for censure, there is also a broader issue of regional stability. Anything which stirs up frustrations by undermining public services or, worse, which directly jeopardises the funding of the security services is playing with fire. And not just for the Palestinians. Any increase in lawlessness in the West Bank has an immediate impact on Israel.

Members of Congress may fail to grasp the impact of their actions, but the point is not lost on either the White House or the Israeli establishment. The US President has so far distanced himself from the aid issue; and earlier in the summer no less a figure than the Israeli Prime Minister urged congressional supporters not to block aid to the Palestinians.

Apparently the message is yet to get through. Worryingly, hints that the Jewish vote may be wavering from its traditional Democratic position leave the US President even less room to manoeuvre than usual. No matter. Both the White House and Israel itself must put every possible pressure on Congress to abandon a punitive stance that is counterproductive and cruel in equal measure.