WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced Monday that it would cooperate with a new Palestinian unity government, but a number of lawmakers continued to push for the opposite approach — to cut over $400 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority until it proved that the new government would uphold the principles set out by the Mideast Quartet.
Shortly after State Department officials clarified that funding to the PA would continue uninterrupted, despite the backing of terror group Hamas in the new government, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) condemned the unity government as “the latest scheme by Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] and Hamas” and accused the unity government of intentionally blurring lines to retain funding.
“The Palestinian leaders know that a unity government would trigger US law to cut off funding, so now they are trying to find loopholes in order to say that they are still abiding by the conditions our laws mandate,” said Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee. “This contortionist act, akin to an embarrassingly evil Cirque du Soleil trick without any of the charm, is disingenuous at best, but this is the type of scheme you would expect from Abu Mazen and his cronies as they continue to try to undermine the peace process and fail to live up to past agreements with Israel,” she said.
The Florida legislator called on the administration to “respond by withholding assistance to any Hamas-backed unity government.”
Ros-Lehtinen’s sentiment was echoed by House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who said that “the burden lies with this new unity government to demonstrate in words and actions that it is truly independent of Hamas, that it rejects terrorism, and that it is committed to a peaceful two-state solution, including recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
On both sides of the aisle, representatives expressed concern that the Palestinian Authority’s leadership was treading a fine line in terms of maintaining funding in the face of almost a decade of legislation that precludes funding any government of which Hamas is a part.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) responded Monday to the announcement of the unity governement’s formation with a statement saying that she is “deeply disappointed with the announcement today of a Palestinian government that includes the terrorist organization Hamas.”
Lowey, the top-ranked Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, warned that “as long as Hamas rejects the Quartet principles and the existence of the State of Israel, United States funding for this unity government is in jeopardy.”
The administration – and the Palestinian Authority – currently argue that the fact that the unity government is a technocratic regime with no Hamas members holding ministries means that a 2006 law governing funding to the PA is not applicable.
In recent weeks, lawmakers have taken a number of directions in their interpretation of the Palestinian Anti-Terror Act of 2006. Those who support the immediate application of the act argue that Hamas’ support for the government — even if it does not hold any ministries – makes the law applicable.
The legislation, which was most recently reaffirmed as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2014, bars the United States from funding any governmental body “effectively controlled by Hamas, any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member, or that results from an agreement with Hamas and over which Hamas exercises undue influence.”
The president can only utilize the waivers to the law if he can satisfy a number of claims, including that “the Palestinian Authority is acting to counter incitement of violence against Israelis and is supporting activities aimed at promoting peace, coexistence, and security cooperation with Israel.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) gestured Monday toward the possibility that the current arrangement may pose questions for the applicability of the law.
“Hamas is no partner for peace; nor a legitimate recipient of aid,” Royce wrote in a statement shortly after Abbas announced the members of his new government. “While the ‘unity government’ hides behind the facade of nonpartisan bureaucrats, it was only born out of support from Hamas – a terrorist organization that continues to call for Israel’s annihilation.”