WASHINGTON – The US supports a Palestinian unity government so long as it upholds the principles of peace, White House Chief of Staff William Daley said on Thursday night.

But he labeled Hamas a terrorist organization and stressed that any Palestinian government had to accept the three demands outlined by the international community.

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“The United States supports Palestinian reconciliation providing it is on the terms that advance the cause of the peace,” Daley told the American Jewish Committee following news that Fatah and Hamas had mended the rift long dividing the Palestinian polity.

“Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization which targets civilians,” he continued. “Any Palestinian government must renounce violence, it must abide by past agreements and it must recognize Israel's right to exist.”

Daley emphasized US President Barack Obama’s enduring commitment to a two-state solution, and called on Israel to take steps to push the peace process forward.

“For Israel this means stopping settlement growth, ending evictions and demolitions, dismantling outposts and improving access and movement within the West Bank,” he said, urging Palestinians to stop incitement and Arab states to make overtures towards Israel as well.

“There is no substitute for continued, active American leadership,” Daley declared. “That’s why even in the face of very difficult challenges he [Obama] remains committed to a comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.”

Daley, making his first appearance before a Jewish organization since becoming chief of staff in January, also reiterated American determination to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons as well as commitment to the US-Israel relationship.

“The president’s support for Israel’s security has been and will be unshakable,” he told the AJC Global Forum.

The administration was still seeking information on the terms of the reconciliation agreement announced by Fatah and Hamas on Wednesday, and such details would inform US policy going forward, Daley said.

Members of Congress, however, are not waiting to express their strong reservations about the agreement. Many representatives involved with authorizing funding for the Palestinian Authority have warned that the recent move could jeopardize US funds.

Reps. Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Nita Lowey (D-New York), the chairwoman and ranking member, respectively, of the House foreign operations appropriations subcommittee, on Thursday sent a letter to the Palestinians outlining their “serious concerns.”

“Your current courses of action undermine the purposes and threaten the provision of United States assistance and support,” they wrote to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, reminding him that the aid was predicated on the Palestinians pursuing peace with Israel and that US money was forbidden to flow to Hamas.

“Our ability to support current and future aid would be severely threatened if you abandon direct negotiations with Israel and continue with your current efforts,” they wrote.

“The Palestinian Authority has chosen an alliance with violence and extremism over the democratic values that Israel represents,” a bipartisan group of US lawmakers said on Thursday after a meeting in Tel Aviv with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The legislators were reacting to the Palestinian unity deal initialed last week that could imperil hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid if it gives a prominent role to Hamas in the PA.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Washington warned that US funding could not flow to a government that included a group on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (RFlorida), the powerful Republican chairwoman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and a staunch defender of Israel, said US law required a halt to support for the PA.

“US taxpayer funds should not and must not be used to support those who threaten US security, our interests and our vital ally, Israel,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

Lowey said any Palestinian unity deal with an unreformed Hamas “will be a death blow to the peace process.”

The United States has given an average of about $400 million per year to the PA headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, much of it aimed at strengthening governance and security in preparation for eventual statehood.

Total US assistance since 1994 has topped $3.5 billion.

A Congressional Research Service report last year said a potential unity government could drop the development and reform objectives set by the Fayyad administration, which are used as major justifications for current US aid levels.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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