WASHINGTON – Mere days after the Palestinian Authority announced its intention to form a unity government with Hamas, the US Congress is examining the process required to cut off aid to the organization.
A subcommittee on the Middle East in the House of Representatives will hold a hearing on the matter on Thursday, in search of a way forward after peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians ended bitterly last week.
Capitol Hill aides say financial assistance may only be cut should the unity government between Fatah, the party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, a terrorist organization as listed by the United States, actually come to pass. Past efforts to form such a government have failed.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post, Congressman Eliot Engel (D-New York), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said no bill was required for aid to be cut to the Palestinians.
“I don’t believe legislation is necessary,” Engel said, noting that existing legislation triggers a cut in aid. “That’s law.”
“Somehow the Palestinian Authority seems to have this attitude that we are somehow obligated to keep them afloat,” he added. “Surely he [Abbas] can’t think that we can just disregard something that’s so basic and fundamental to our policy.”
That fundamental requirement to continue receiving aid is the recognition of Israel – a move that Hamas has refused to take, and which Hamas officials have given the US no indication that they are preparing for.
Hamas’s charter calls for the elimination of the Zionist state, and for the killing of Jews worldwide.
Existing appropriations law says that any power- sharing government with Hamas requires the organization to respect existing agreements between Israel and the PLO , renounce violence, and accept Israel’s right to exist.
“The Palestinians are now insisting that a technocratic government— one where technocrats are selected jointly by Hamas and Fatah – does not constitute a government with Hamas participation,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. “The Israelis have made it clear that they don’t view things that way. And I don’t suspect that Congress will, either. Hamas’s participation, even if it takes place behind closed doors, will be hard to ignore.”
While Engel said Congress would shed no tears should a cut be necessary, he expressed skepticism that events would reach that point of tension.
“I think the two [Palestinian] groups hate each other so much, I don’t see how this can happen,” he said.
The State Department has “notified,” or appropriated, all funds for fiscal year 2014.
But that tranche of aid has not been entirely “obligated.” The Palestinians have not spent it all, and the State Department has authority over access to the remaining money.
Aid for 2015 has been neither appropriated nor obligated.
“Should Hamas join the PLO , it could prompt a re-designation of the PLO as a terrorist group,” Schanzer suggested. “It could also prompt asset freezes, including [of] the PLO Embassy and other holdings around the world in dollar denominations.”