Senior senator: ‘Short window’ for Palestinian unity in DC

Robert Menendez to examine US funding for PA, warns lifting Iran sanctions will require Congressional approval

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (photo credit: CC BY-Glyn Lowe Photoworks, flickr)
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (photo credit: CC BY-Glyn Lowe Photoworks, flickr)

WASHINGTON — A Palestinian unity government can only enjoy a “short window” of viability in Washington, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) told an American Jewish Committee meeting over the weekend.

“Palestinians must choose between peace with Israel as a Jewish state and a marriage with Hamas, a terrorist organization,” Menendez told participants at the AJC New Jersey Region Annual Meeting. The “marriage will have severe consequences.”

Despite statements from the State Department that the US had adopted a wait-and-see approach regarding any move to suspend funding to the Palestinian Authority, Menendez said that he would conduct a review of aid to the technocratic Palestinian government formed through a power-sharing agreement with Hamas. “US law is explicit on this. We will not provide assistance to a Palestinian government in which Hamas has a role and exercises undue influence,” Menendez promised.

The 2006 Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act requires a suspension of US funding for any Palestinian government that includes an unreformed Hamas. In the wake of the formation of the Palestinian unity government last week, many Congressional critics and major Jewish organizations called for a close examination of the current PA government to determine whether it is in violation of the law. The US provides the PA with over $400 million in funding annually.

Menendez, who has butted heads with the Obama administration in the past over its Iran policy, also questioned the wisdom of the administration’s decision to give “this two-headed dragon” a chance, based on “the empty assurances of one man, [PA] President [Mahmoud] Abbas,” that it will recognize Israel, avoid violence, and respect previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

“I say this can only have a very short window,” said Menendez. “Whatever its alleged role, Hamas will wield power and influence, and Hamas, under our law, is a terrorist organization opposed to a two-state agreement and supported by Iran.”

Menendez, who has led Senate efforts to impose sanctions on Iran, also discussed Washington’s push toward meeting a July 20 deadline for a comprehensive agreement with Tehran on Iran’s nuclear program. The US is holding rare bilateral talks with Iran this week as part of the effort to reach a final agreement between world powers and Tehran within the next five weeks.

“I prefer to have no deal than a bad deal,” said Menendez. A good deal “verifiably dismantles” Iran’s nuclear program, “sets it back for many years,” and has “a robust, intrusive inspections regime” in light of Iran’s long record “of deceit and cheating.”

Menendez pointed out that only Congress can remove some of the sanctions on Iran. “I will hold the deal subject to a robust review by Congress,” he said.

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