WASHINGTON – Senior members of Congress are warning that the new deal between Fatah and Hamas to form a Palestinian unity government jeopardizes American assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

“The reported agreement between Fatah and Hamas means that a foreign terrorist organization which has called for the destruction of Israel will be part of the Palestinian Authority government,” said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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“US taxpayer funds should not and must not be used to support those who threaten US security, our interests, and our vital ally, Israel.”

She stressed that US law prevents such funds – close to $500 million in annual assistance – because the PA must recognize Israel’s right to exist in order to receive the funding.

Hamas, labeled a terrorist organization by the US and Israel, is committed to Israel’s elimination.

Kay Granger, the chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing the PA assistance, also indicated the unity government would affect US support. “If a power-sharing agreement with a terrorist organization becomes a reality in the Palestinian territories, the US will be forced to reexamine our aid to the Palestinian Authority,” said Granger spokesman Matt Leffingwell.

Granger is currently in Cairo holding consultations on the issue, having met this week with Israeli and Palestinian officials before the deal was announced.

Top Democrats echoed their Republican colleagues. Nita Lowey, who serves as the ranking member of Granger’s subcommittee, said, “Unless Hamas accepts the Quartet Principles, which include renouncing violence and recognizing Israel, the formation of a unity government with Fatah will be a deathblow to the peace process.”

And Gary Ackerman, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Middle East subcommittee, charged that “the United States will be compelled by both law and decency to withhold any assistance that could fall into the hands or control or even partial control of anyone reporting to, or belonging to a terrorist entity, as is Hamas.”

The response from the Obama administration to Wednesday’s deal, however, has been more muted, as officials taken by surprise have scrambled to sort out the details of the agreement, many of which are not yet clear.

But the first public response by a White House official, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, indicated concern over the development.

“The United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace,” he said. “Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization which targets civilians.”

Vietor continued, “To play a constructive role in achieving peace, any Palestinian government must accept the Quartet principles and renounce violence, abide by past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

So far the unity government deal does not apparently include these elements, and seems to push out PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The presence of the trusted, Western- educated economist has been crucial to the willingness of the US administration and Congress to funnel money to the PA.

Jackson Diehl, a prominent Washington Post columnist, warned that if the agreement does stick, it would all but doom a revival of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at a time when the administration had been making motions toward such an effort.

“If Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas moves forward with the reconciliation with the Islamic Hamas movement, it will mean he has written off the Obama administration and the peace process it has tried to broker, once and for all,” according to Diehl.

Diehl noted that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had recently spoke publicly about US efforts to intensify Israeli-Palestinian peace-making and Obama’s own assertions that Abbas could shepherd such a process. But with a unity government unwilling to accept the Quartet principles, such plans would be thwarted.

“For Israel and the Obama administration, the reconciliation spells a disaster,” Diehl wrote.

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