House resolution warns US aid would end if Hamas takes over West Bank

Congressional proposal urges Abbas to take action to stymie Islamists, clarify a presidential succession plan, expand political freedom

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) seen with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, April 7, 2013. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) seen with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, April 7, 2013. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

NEW YORK – A resolution circulated Tuesday among House members calls on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to expand political freedom in the West Bank, “clarify” a succession plan should he resign, and take measures to prevent a Hamas takeover in the West Bank, or risk losing American aid money.

Two Chicago-area congressmen, Republican Peter Roskam and Democrat Dan Lipinski, initiated the proposed legislation, which reflects growing concern in Washington over the succession crisis that may occur should Abbas step down or die while in office. The key concern: that the death or resignation of Abbas would lead to a Hamas takeover of the West Bank.

“President Abbas is 78 years old, a prostate cancer survivor, and a frequent traveler who was hospitalized 6 times in 2010,” the draft resolution notes. With the resignation of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on April 13, “President Abbas does not have a responsible heir to succeed him in the event of his death.”

The resolution points to the Palestinian Basic Law, article 37, which states that in the event of the president’s death or resignation, “the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council shall temporarily assume the powers and duties of the Presidency of the National Authority for a period not to exceed sixty (60) days, during which free and direct elections to elect a new President shall take place.”

The current speaker of the PLC, the authors note, is Aziz Dweik, who is affiliated with Hamas, considered a terror organization by the EU, US, Japan, Canada and Israel.

As for the legal requirement to hold prompt elections, the proposed legislation notes that Abbas was last elected in 2005 for a term which officially expired in January 2009. Abbas has served over four years as president without an election.

In effect, the resolution warns of the consequences of a Hamas takeover should the aging Abbas cede PA leadership to Hamas.

In explaining its rationale, it notes bluntly: “A Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority would prevent any possibility of a two-state solution between the parties.”

It points out a 2012 law that prohibits US financial “assistance to Hamas or any entity 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.”

Therefore, the resolution warns that “a Hamas takeover of the Palestinian Authority would trigger the suspension of United States foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority,” amounting to some $400 million annually for security assistance, infrastructure, humanitarian aid and more.

That American assistance makes up some 10 percent of the combined GDP of the West Bank and Gaza, according to the World Bank.

To prevent the loss of this support, the congressional resolution urges, Abbas must “preempt a succession crisis in the Palestinian Authority by addressing the current succession plan, and by identifying figures committed to the peace process with Israel,” and “take preventative measures to limit the possibility of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank.”

He is also urged to “enact reforms to open the political process through fair and responsible elections, ensuring the freedom of speech, the press, and political assembly and allowing a new generation of leadership to freely express their views.”

And finally, the resolution calls on the PA “to ensure that officials participating in any present or future Palestinian Government are committed to the (US, Russia, EU, UN) quartet principles, the recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence, and adherence to previous diplomatic agreements.”

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