WASHINGTON - US lawmakers said on Wednesday they were unhappy about the Palestinian leadership's decision to sign more than a dozen international conventions, and warned it could trigger a cutoff of US aid.
"It was extremely disappointing to me that (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) chose to take this action at the UN. It is counterproductive and doesn't move them closer to any final resolution," New York Representative Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, said at a House hearing.
Abbas had pledged not to seek to join world bodies during US brokered peace negotiations that are scheduled to run until April 29. But he made a surprise announcement on Tuesday that he had signed the conventions,
citing anger at Israel's delay of a prisoner release.
The PA ambassador to the UN Ibrahim Khreeshi said Wednesday that there are "550 treaties and organizations that we can join" and that it will take the Palestinians three to four months to join the 15 international treaties and organizations Abbas signed on on Tuesday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry immediately announced that he was cancelling a trip to the region.
On Wednesday at the House subcommittee hearing on the UN budget, lawmakers questioned Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, about Abbas' action.
They discussed whether it would trigger a US law that Palestinian membership in international agencies could prompt a withdrawal of financial aid to the Palestinian Authority and closure of their mission in Washington.
Power said it was too soon to determine what response would be appropriate. "We will need to see what it is they have submitted," she said.
Power went on to say the Obama administration opposes all unilateral actions that the Palestinians take to statehood, adding that there are no shortcuts to statehood, and that any unilateral actions could be "tremendously destructive" to the peace process.
Representative Kay Granger, who chairs the subcommittee, said the Obama administration must make its opposition clear.
"The administration must send a clear message to the Palestinians that the only path to statehood is through a negotiated agreement with Israel, not through unilateral attempts at the UN," Granger said at the hearing.
The White House expressed its "disappointment" Wednesday by "unhelpful, unilateral actions both (Israel and Palestinians) have taken in recent days."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest went on to say that "tit for tat" actions and reactions by both the Israelis and Palestinians are "counterproductive," but the administration still believes there is a path forward.
"There is a path for us to diplomatically find a way for there to be a safe, secure Jewish state of Israel existing alongside an independent, secure Palestinian state as well. That is the ultimate goal."
Secretary of State John Kerry was "in close touch with our negotiating team, which remains on the ground in the region to continue discussions with the parties," Earnest continued.
Kerry spoke to both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Abbas on the phone on Wednesday, and representatives of the two sides were scheduled to meet on Wednesday evening with US envoy to the Mideast talks Martin Indyk in an attempt to resolve the differences between them.
In his conversation with Abbas, Kerry asked the PA president to "keep the door open for negotiations." The two agreed to stay in touch over the next few days.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.