Administration asks Congress to revise anti-Hamas bill

Views new legislation regarding Hamas as "unnecessary".

James Sensenbrenner 88 (photo credit: )
James Sensenbrenner 88
(photo credit: )
The US administration views new legislation regarding Hamas as "unnecessary" and is calling on Congress to make revisions that would moderate the limitations the bill imposes on providing assistance to the Palestinians, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The bill, known as the Palestinian Anti Terrorism Act 0f 2006, was pulled off the House of Representatives floor at the last minute Tuesday after being scheduled for a vote. The postponement was due to House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner's (R-WI) request to bring the bill to a vote in his committee before taking it to the floor. The bill was already approved overwhelmingly in the House Foreign Relations Committee, but was referred to the Judiciary Committee and to the Financial Services Committee to discuss its legal and financial aspects. Sources on Capitol Hill speculated Tuesday that the bill would arrive at the floor for a vote next week. Meanwhile, the State Department last week began circulating among members of Congress a letter expressing the administration's reservations over the bill, asking them to amend several of its key provisions. The letter states that the administration already had "ample authority to impose all its restrictions" on the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. It calls on Congress to provide the administrative branch with more flexibility in dealing with the Palestinians by broadening the president's ability to waive the bill's limitations for reasons of national security and by easing some of the restrictions regarding humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. The administration's letter also calls on congress to put a time limit on the bill, to make a clear distinction between Hamas members and other PA officials and Palestinians who are not members of Hamas, and to make it easier for the administration to provide assistance to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The State Department also claims that some of the provisions in the bill regarding US policy towards the Palestinians "infringe upon the President's constitutional authority to conduct the Nation's foreign affairs." It is not clear whether the administration's letter was the cause for delaying the vote on the bill Tuesday or whether further amendments will be introduced before it goes to the floor for a vote. The bill has been cosponsored by 290 members of congress, and it is expected to be approved once it is brought to a vote. The Senate version of the bill already has 79 cosponsors, but debate on the language of the legislation in the Senate has not yet begun. Meanwhile, the Quartet met in New York to discuss the financial crisis the Palestinians have been going through since Hamas came to power. Representatives of the US, UN, EU and Russia began to discuss requests of the PA to renew financial support in light of its inability to pay salaries or provide services. In the first part of the discussion, Quartet members were joined by the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said before the meeting that "the one thing that we cannot do is to let Hamas continue to pretend that it's the international community's fault that there's a health care problem in the Palestinian territories." A World Bank report put out on the eve of the Quartet meeting warned that the PA might collapse if not assisted immediately.