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(photo credit: AP)
The US administration and Congress are threatening to stop financial aid to the Palestinian Authority until the ruling Hamas party recognizes Israel and stops terror activity. The US is expected to present this view at the Quartet meeting on Monday and to ask the EU, the UN and Russia to impose restrictions on aid to the Palestinians in light of the results of the parliamentary elections.
US president George Bush said Friday that if the Hamas does not dismantle its terror arm and does not stop calling for the destruction of Israel, then the US "won't deal with them." In an interview on CBS evening news, Bush added that the aid package to the Palestinian Authority will not go through before Hamas changes its behavior.
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"That's their decision to make, but we won't be providing help to a government that wants to destroy our ally and friend", said Bush, referring to Hamas' threats against Israel.
The US administration, still struggling to understand the full meaning of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections, put the financial aid issue at the center this weekend, sending a direct message to the Hamas, that if it does not change its ways, it will lead the Palestinians to an economic crisis.
The US gives the Palestinians almost $250 million annually, part of the money through US aid agencies, and part through the UN. The Palestinians receive over $900 million a year in foreign aid, most of it from the EU. An American decision to cut aid to the PA, even if it is not followed by similar actions on behalf of the Europeans, would prevent the PA from being able to pay salaries to the police and public sector workers in the PA, which account for a significant part of the Palestinian work force.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday that though the US recognizes the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians, it is obliged to review the aid it is sending to the PA, since the US law and the policies of the administration "state that no money goes to terrorist organizations".
Existing US laws already put curbs on the ability of the administration to transfer direct financial aid to the Palestinian Authority and for that reason most of the aid is given through non-profits and NGO's working in the territories.
After the death of Yasser Arafat the administration decided to funnel some money directly to the PA in order to strengthen the rule of Mahmud abbas and allow him to pay salaries to the PA workers. These funds were given directly by a presidential order and did not go through congress.
Now, the US congress is looking into ways to ensure that the administration does not give financial aid to a Palestinian government led by the Hamas. This Friday a non-binding resolution began circulating in the Senate, calling the administration not to pass funds to the Palestinian Authority as long as the ruling Hamas party sticks to its platform that calls for the destruction of Israel. The resolution, introduced by Senator John Thune (R-SD) does not prevent the administration from providing financial aid to the PA, but it does send a strong message that if the administration tries to go forward with aid for the Hamas-led PA, it will face a tough battle in congress.
The House of Representatives also began to deal with the Hamas issue and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who heads the subcommittee on Middle East, is expected to introduce a bill this week that would limit the ability of the US to provide assistance to Palestinian local authorities which are governed by the Hamas.