US Jewish groups cast PA unity as rejection of peace

Many call for careful examination of 2006 funding law while Americans for Peace Now sees potential benefit in deal

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

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah greet the members of the new Palestinian unity government in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 2, 2014. (Photo credit: AFP /ABBAS MOMANI)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah greet the members of the new Palestinian unity government in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 2, 2014. (Photo credit: AFP /ABBAS MOMANI)

WASHINGTON — The news of a Hamas-Fatah unity government was greeted with dismay by many American Jewish and pro-Israel organizations Monday. Although major organizations did not echo the Israeli government’s strident critique of the Monday afternoon announcement that the United States would continue to provide foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority, a number of organizations called for a careful evaluation of the current laws that prohibit funds being delivered to any Palestinian government that includes Hamas.

In a joint statement issued by Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Chairman Robert Sugarman and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein wrote that they were “disappointed and deeply concerned at the formation of the Palestinian Authority “unity” government.”

The Conference of Presidents statement echoed the wording of a statement issued hours earlier by AIPAC shortly after State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki clarified that the United States would continue to provide over $400 million in funding to the Palestinian Authority.

AIPAC’s statement said that the organization was “greatly concerned and disappointed by the announcement of the formation of a Palestinian Authority unity government backed by Hamas.”

With lines being drawn between legislators and the administration over the standards for enforcement of the 2006 Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act which would suspend funding for any Palestinian government that included an unreformed Hamas, a number of organizations called for Congressional involvement in examining and enforcing the law.

The Conference of Presidents leaders wrote that “United States law prohibits funding to a Palestinian government in which Hamas participates. We, therefore, support the calls by members of Congress from both parties to review US aid to the Palestinian Authority and to assure that the law is appropriately implemented.”

Similarly, AIPAC wrote in its statement that “US law is clear – no funds can be provided to a Palestinian government in which Hamas participates or has undue influence. We now urge Congress to conduct a thorough review of continued US assistance to the Palestinian Authority to ensure that the law is completely followed and implemented.

The Anti-Defamation League’s National Director Abraham Foxman wrote Monday afternoon that “the US should exert maximum pressure on the new Palestinian government until Hamas expressly renounces terror against Israel, acknowledges Israel’s right to exist and accepts all of the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Neither Hamas nor Fatah are entitled to a free pass by simply appearing to reconcile their differences.”

“Although we do not believe the US should immediately end all funding to the Palestinian Authority, we support the idea of a pause in funding US aid to see if the new government can qualify to avoid a full cut of funding under the 2006 Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act prohibiting US foreign aid to a Palestinian government which includes Hamas,” Foxman continued.

The Orthodox Union’s Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament called in a statement early Monday for the Obama administration to “withhold any recognition – formal or informal – of this new entity and to withhold American material support from its institutions as required by Federal law.”

Urging other Western governments to do the same, Diament described this as “a moment where people of good will must act in accordance with clear moral principles and oppose the ideology of hate and violence,” adding that “we pray that such resolve will ultimately return Israelis and Palestinians to the path of peace.”

A number of organizations – including AIPAC, the ADL and Conference of Presidents – emphasized that the new Palestinian technocratic government would have a deleterious impact on future prospects for peace.

“The Fatah-Hamas unity government is a marriage involving an unabashed terrorist partner and, therefore, another setback to any prospect for peace,” said American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris, calling on the US and European governments not to recognize the new Palestinian government.

“The US and EU must uphold their recognition of Hamas as the terrorist organization it is and long has been. No intellectual sophistry or diplomatic self-deception can hide that plain fact,” Harris said. “Indeed, Hamas continues to this day to proclaim its rejection of Israel’s very right to exist, and deadly rockets are fired to Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza on a regular basis. What, then, can possibly be the meaning of a Hamas ‘technocrat’ other than a wolf in sheep’s clothing? How sad and telling that President Abbas, given yet another choice between coexistence with Israel and confrontation, chose the latter!”

Harris said that “western nations” must demonstrate that there are “clear consequences” for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a result of the pact. “It can’t be business as usual. Beyond the veneer of ‘technocrats’ serving in the new Palestinian cabinet are Hamas leaders who will no doubt exploit this new arrangement to advance their goals, goals which are entirely inimical to the US, European Union, and all friends of the peace process.”

Like Harris, AIPAC’s leadership cast Abbas’s decision to form a unity government as preferring Hamas over the peace process.

“President Abbas could have continued to pursue the peace process with his willing partner, Israel,” AIPAC’s statement read. “Instead, he chose to align with Hamas – a group that is dedicated to Israel’s destruction and represents the antithesis of peaceful reconciliation and coexistence.

Foxman described the new government as “a step off the path towards Israeli-Palestinian peace, and another rejection of Israel’s efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict, and an outright negation of the tireless peace efforts of Secretary Kerry and others.”

“By pivoting away from Israel and towards Hamas – a terrorist organization which continues advocating for Israel’s violent destruction – President Abbas is demonstrating a lack of interest in ending the conflict through a negotiated agreement with Israel,” Foxman complained in his Monday afternoon statement.

J Street also took a cautious approach, urging both the US and Israeli government “to adopt a watchful, waiting position in response to the formation of a new Palestinian government.”

In a lengthy statement, the organization said that if the new government were to accept the conditions set out by the Middle East Quartet — to recognize Israel, renounce violence and adhere to previous agreements — it ‘should remain a partner for the United States.”

J Street maintained a cautious optimism toward the interim government, suggesting that “the potential benefit of political unification is that it allows the Palestinian President to negotiate with Israel on behalf of all Palestinians, those in Gaza as well as those in the West Bank.”

While calling on the Obama administration and Congress to “review the composition and policies of the new government to ensure they are in line with US law,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami also warned that “it would be a mistake for either the United States or Israel to take rash punitive actions against the Palestinians that will only hurt their own interests and set back hopes of resuming peace negotiations.”

Americans Peace Now also described the interim government as “a promising and much-needed step toward unifying not only Palestinian political factions but also the two territorial components of the Palestinian polity: The West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

“Such unity is vital for empowering the Palestinian leadership to credibly conduct negotiations with Israel and to reliably implement a future peace agreement,” the organization wrote in a statement in which it also called on the Obama administration, the Israeli government and the international community “to determine their relations with this new Palestinian government based on its positions and actions, rather than using Hamas’ participation in its formation as pretext to reject it.”

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