Hamas-Fatah deal may push Congress to drop US aid to Palestinians
Wednesday's announced reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah triggered a backlash in Washington, including calls for financial retaliation. Members of Congress from both parties are already calling for an immediate suspension of aid, reports Al-Monitor.
Hamas and the PLO, which runs the PA in the West Bank, have agreed to form a unity government within five weeks. "I announce to our people the news that the years of split are over," Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was quoted as telling reporters in Gaza.
That announcement came on the heels of Abbas' decision to sign 15 UN treaties in violation of the terms of the peace negotiations with Israel, a move that had already triggered anger from Congress.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida and author of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, called for an immediate suspension of US aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The 2006 law, passed after Hamas won that year's Palestinian legislative elections, prohibits support for a "Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority."
"The Administration must halt aid to the Palestinian Authority and condition any future assistance as leverage to force Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] to abandon this reconciliation with Hamas and to implement real reforms within the PA," Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs panel on the Middle East, said in a statement.
"U.S. law is clear on the prohibition of U.S. assistance to a unity Palestinian government that includes Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, and President Obama must not allow one cent of American taxpayer money to help fund this terrorist group."
Her Democratic counterpart on the subcommittee, Ted Deutch of Florida, issued a similar warning. "President Abbas now stands at a pivotal crossroad — does he want peace with Israel or reconciliation with Hamas?" Deutch said. "Be certain that the Palestinian Authority will face significant consequences if a unity government is formed that includes terrorist members of Hamas."
Democrat Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, flatly said the move "jeopardizes US assistance."
The White House requested $440 million for aid to the West Bank and Gaza in 2014.
The 2006 anti-terror law bars aid to a Hamas government unless the group recognizes Israel, dismantles terrorist infrastructure in its jurisdiction and ceases anti-Israel "incitement." As Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel, that's unlikely to happen. Hamas parliamentarian Hassan Youssef declared that Hamas would neither recognize Israel nor "give up the resistance."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abbas would have to choose between Hamas and peace talks with Israel.
"Does he want peace with Hamas, or peace with Israel?" the Prime Minister said. "You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace. So far, he hasn't done so."
Ros-Lehtinen said she'd hold hearings on the Palestinian Authority soon.
"In the coming weeks, I will convene a subcommittee hearing on this issue and many more regarding the PA, Israel and the peace process," she said. "It's long past time the US reassess its relationship with the corrupt Abu Mazen and his cronies."