In the wake of this week's announcement that Fatah and Hamas will form a unity government, bipartisan congressional opposition is emerging to continued U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), reports Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin.
Obama Administration officials said Thursday that they would not support the new PA government unless it commits to peace conditions spelled out by the Quartet, a group that consists of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. Those conditions include recognition of prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements, renunciation of violence, and recognition of Israel's right to exist. But the administration has stopped short of supporting a halt to aid to the PA, which is slated to receive $550 million in American assistance this year.
Calls for an aid cutoff are mounting on Capitol Hill, however. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Tex., the chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee which oversees U.S. foreign assistance programs, and the subcommittee's ranking member, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., sent a letter to PA President Mahmoud Abbas threatening to cut off aid if he moves forward with the plan to join with Hamas.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said the merger means that U.S. aid to the PA must end.
"The reported agreement between Fatah and Hamas means that a Foreign Terrorist Organization which has called for the destruction of Israel will be part of the Palestinian Authority government. U.S. taxpayer funds should not and must not be used to support those who threaten U.S. security, our interests, and our vital ally, Israel," Ros-Lehtinen said Wednesday in a statement.
Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, called the Fatah/Hamas deal "a recipe for failure, mixed with violence, leading to disaster" and "a ghastly mistake that I fear will be paid for in the lives of innocent Israelis."
By making a deal with Hamas, Abbas appears to be "writing off partnership with the United States," Ackerman said. Under the circumstances, Washington "will be compelled by both law and decency" to withhold any assistance that could possibly come under the control of Hamas.
The administration, by contrast, is leaving the door open to U.S. assistance.
The United States "supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace," said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor. "Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization which targets civilians. To play a constructive role in achieving peace, any Palestinian government must accept the Quartet principles and renounce violence, abide by past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist."
But the administration has refused to explain how it would react if that doesn't happen.
In her column, Rubin asked Vietor whether his statement meant Washington is prohibited from giving aid to the PA because of Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel and renounce terror. The NSC spokesman declined to say anything beyond the initial statement.
But, speaking on background, a State Department official made clear the administration isn't drawing any red lines:
"If a new Palestinian government is formed, we will assess it based on its policies at that time and will determine the implications for assistance based on U.S. law."