Lawmakers from both major parties and both chambers of Congress moved on Monday to condemn the formation of a new Palestinian unity government – agreed to in recent days by the rival Hamas and Fatah factions, and announced Monday morning by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas – with Al Monitor’s Congress Pulse summing up the sentiment late in the day under the terse headline “Congress to Obama: Cut aid to Palestinians.”
Al Monitor read congressional remarks – which directly called for the application of blackletter Congressional law banning aid from going to Hamas-linked Palestinian governments – against the backdrop of the Obama administration’s decision, outlined at Monday’s State Department briefing by spokesperson Jen Psaki, to keep working with the new consensus cabinet:
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that the administration believes the PA has “every desire and intent” to abide by its commitment to recognize Israel and forswear violence. She promised “close consultation” with Congress but made it clear that the administration intends to continue disbursing the $440 million in aid to the West Bank and Gaza requested in President Obama’s 2014 budget.
“We continue to believe that our assistance to the PA and the Palestinian people are important,” said Psaki, referring to the new Palestinian leadership agreement as an “interim technocratic government that does not include ministers affiliated with Hamas.”
Lawmakers said the administration was being hoodwinked.
It quoted Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) declaring that “the administration must not fall for [Abbas’s] latest ploy and instead enforce US law and cut off funding,” a stance echoed by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA).
It also quoted Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) – chairwoman of the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs – flatly announcing that “funding for the Palestinians is off-the-table until it is clear that the unity government is committed to peace and security,” and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) remarking that Abbas’s decision “places in jeopardy the millions of dollars in foreign assistance.”
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, quickly published a statement:
“Today’s decision by President Abbas to swear in a unity government backed by Hamas is a deeply disturbing step away from the pursuit of peace. Hamas is a designated terrorist group that has consistently refused to accept the international Quartet conditions of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and accepting all previous negotiated diplomatic agreements. Since reconciliation talks were announced in April, Hamas’ leaders have continued to declare they will never recognize Israel. Unfortunately, this decision to unite with Hamas only further diminishes the prospects for peace.”
On the Senate side, Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) reiterated that “current U.S. law is clear – any government over which an unreformed Hamas exercises undue influence and which emerges from a Fatah/Hamas deal is not an appropriate recipient of U.S. assistance” and noted that “the naming of a technocratic slate of ministers by President Abbas seems to be an attempted end run around these obligations”:
“Hamas remains a terrorist group that has killed Americans. Its leaders continue to refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist. One month ago, we wrote to Secretary of State Kerry and urged him to state clearly the U.S. position regarding assistance to a power-sharing government backed by Hamas. We have yet to receive an answer. Now that the President Abbas has announced the new government, consistent with existing U.S. law, we believe that U.S. assistance should be halted and reviewed. Unless Hamas publicly accepts Israel’s right to exist and ceases its support for terrorism, U.S. aid should be suspended to any Palestinian government over which Hamas exercises influence.
“The administration’s initial reaction to continue aid is troubling and runs counter to existing law. We call on the Obama administration to enforce the law. U.S. credibility as well as Israel’s security are at stake.”
[Photo: France 24 (English) / YouTube]