WASHINGTON - The US administration has stepped in to stop legislation aimed at toughening sanctions against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Congress adjourned Friday for its election recess without taking on a proposed bill which would increase the restrictions on funding non-government groups working in the Palestinian territories.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice intervened personally, calling Senate majority whip Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and urging him to reconsider an initiative to include the Palestinian sanctions in an omnibus bill.
The administration, according to sources who received updates on the talks, does not feel the time is right for strengthening sanctions against the Palestinians and wants to prevent Congress from tying its hands when dealing with moderate Palestinian leaders.
Senator McConnell's press secretary, Robert Steurer, would not address the negotiations between Congress and the administration about the Palestinian sanctions issue, stating that the omnibus bill will only be considered after congress returns from recess, "so it's too early to discuss what's going to be included in the bill."
The initiative to block funding to the Palestinians was led by Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in the House and Senator McConnell in the Senate. While the two versions differ slightly, they are both intended to stop aid to the Palestinian Authority and prevent ties with PA officials following Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections in January. The administration has insisted that the bill is unnecessary since existing US laws prohibit direct aid to the PA and since American officials are banned as it is from coming in contact with Hamas members. Hamas is listed in the US as a terror organization.
The sanctions bills were supported by pro-Israel activisats in Washington, but at the same time were lobbied against by several dovish Jewish groups.
Diane Balser, from the Brit Tzedek V'Shalom advocacy group, who worked Congress to block the bill, welcomed the administration's intervention and said that "it would be criminal" to stop funding to NGO's in Gaza, adding that as the humanitarian situation in the region worsened, the chances of achieving peace and an independent Palestinian state grew smaller.