In a highly controversial move, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has approved a $147 million economic support package to the Palestinian people despite a hold on these funds by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The move contradicts previous statements from Clinton that she would never send aid to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
"We will not deal with nor in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless and until Hamas has renounced violence, recognized Israel and agreed to follow the previous obligations of the Palestinian Authority," Clinton told Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., during a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing in April 2009.
Hamas, a designated terrorist organization, has not met any of these three conditions. Yet, a State Department letter sent Tuesday to key members of Congress alerted them of Clinton's decision to move forward with the aid package.
The funds deliver "critical support to the Palestinian people and those leaders seeking to combat extremism within their society and build a more stable future. Without funding, our programs risk cancellation," a State Department official said in an e-mail to the National Journal. "Such an occurrence would undermine the progress that has been made in recent years in building Palestinian institutions and improving stability, security, and economic prospects, which benefits Israelis and Palestinians alike."
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who placed the hold on funding to the Palestinians, was angered by Clinton's challenge to her congressional oversight role.
"The U.S. has given $3 billion in aid to the Palestinians in the last five years alone, and what do we have to show for it?" Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement Wednesday. "Now the administration is sending even more. Where is the accountability for U.S. taxpayer dollars?"
Ros-Lehtinen blocked the aid to stop U.S. funds going to assistance and recovery programs in Hamas-run Gaza; road construction projects in the West Bank that are not vital for security; or trade and tourist promotion.
She was willing to release $88.6 million of the $147 million package under terms spelled out in a letter sent to Clinton and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah last month.
But Clinton ignored those recommendations and unilaterally approved the full payment. It's not the first example of her inconsistency regarding Palestinian governance.
In that 2009 House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing, she changed her tune ever so slightly to indicate that any future Palestinian government would need to meet these conditions and not necessarily Hamas itself.
"U.S. assistance will only be permitted to any power-sharing government in which Hamas participates, if the president certifies that the power-sharing government has met the three principles I just outlined," she said.