Top US senators call on Obama to halt funding for PA

Israel rejects UN request to release withheld tax money; Days after Fatah-Hamas unity deal, EU transfers 85 million euros to Ramallah.

US President Barack Obama 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Twenty-seven US Senators appealed on Friday to President Barack Obama to halt funding to a unified Fatah-Hamas government that refuses to renounce terrorism or recognize Israel.
“It is imperative for you to make clear to [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas that Palestinian Authority participation in a unity government with an unreformed Hamas will jeopardize its relationship with the United States, including its receipt of US aid,” the senators said in a letter they sent to Obama. The letter, signed by mostly Democratic senators, was organized by Senators Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Robert Casey of Pennsylvania.
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“As you are aware, US law prohibited aid from being provided to a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless the government and all its members have publicly committed to the Quartet principles,” the senators wrote.
Leading members of the House of Representatives, such as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, have similarly spoken out.
But the Obama administration has taken no action on the matter to date.
Meanwhile, the United Nations and the European Union say that until more is known about the nature of the PA government to be formed, funding should continue as usual.
Israel, as of Saturday night, has refused to agree to a request by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to continue to transfer tax funds to the PA.
The request came during a phone call on Friday between Ban and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to discuss the stalled Middle East peace process and the Fatah- Hamas reconciliation.
Israel last week suspended the transfer of tax funds it collects on behalf of the PA, in response to the Palestinian unity deal.
No cabinet decision has yet been made on the issue.
But the government has asked the international community to similarly suspend its financing of the PA until it is certain that the money will not end up in the hands of Hamas.
As of Saturday night, the Prime Minister’s Office had not publicly responded to Ban’s request.
But on Friday, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio that the government had no intention of handing money over to Hamas.
“It was important to send a clear red warning to the Palestinian Authority and also to the world that we cannot countenance a terrorist government that on one hand talks about peace, and on the other hands continues, with the money that we transfer to it, to buy missiles and to rearm,” Steinitz said.
In Norway, visiting Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon called on its government to suspend funding to the PA, out of fear that it would be used to harm innocent Israeli civilians.
Netanyahu made similar requests while in Britain and France last week.
But the government’s calls to suspend funding to the PA has fallen on deaf ears.
The European Commission on Friday approved the transfer of 85 million euros to the PA at the request of its Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
He had made the request for urgent financial assistance before the deal was reached with Hamas.
But the European Commission approved the matter two days after Fatah and Hamas signed their unity agreement.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Friday that the funding decision “renews our commitment to support the most vulnerable among Palestinians, and is part of our support to the Palestinian Authority’s institution-building program, contributing to the salaries and pensions of PA civil servants who work in health and education. It is important that access to essential public services remains uninterrupted and the right to social services is respected.”
She spoke despite statements by leaders from the EU, the US and even Ban that any new PA government would have to conform to the three Quartet principles: renounce terrorism, recognize Israel and abide by past agreements.
Hamas has refused to accept these conditions.
While Europe and the international community continue to send strong messages to the Palestinians about their expectations regarding its new government, in practice they have continued business as usual, including their expectations that Netanyahu continue to take bold moves for peace.
Ban told Netanyahu in their conversation that the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians must be overcome. “Continued drifting” would not serve the interest of both parties, he said.
Ban urged Netanyahu to make “decisive moves” toward a historic agreement with the Palestinians.
Ban said that the UN had long urged Fatah and Hamas to reconcile, under the continued leadership of Abbas and within the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet’s principles.
Unity is a process that is just beginning now, and it would be best to assess it as it moves forward, Ban said.
Speaking in Beersheba on Saturday night, Deputy Premier Moshe Ya’alon attacked the very notion of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, that we are talking about a true reconciliation. It’s a misinterpretation. I do not buy it. Do we think that Abu Mazen [Abbas] will really empty Gaza of missiles and rockets or that he will allow Hamas to enter Judea and Samaria?” he asked.
"Hamas agreed to the unity deal from a position of weakness, because it is struggling in Gaza," Ya’alon said. "But make no mistake, its true objective is to establish an Islamic Palestinian state from the river to the sea."
Since the announcement of the unity deal, Netanyahu has been clear that as long as Hamas is dedicated to Israel’s destruction, it can not be a partner to peace.
He said this to international leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron, during visits he made to Paris and London last week.
In France on Friday morning, Netanyahu met with Prime Minister François Fillon and the two men agreed that France would initiate a government-to-government program with Israel, similar to those it has with Italy and Germany.
Under this program, Fillon will come to Israel with a delegation of senior cabinet ministers.
The two men also discussed France’s participation in a railway line to be built from Ashdod to Eilat.
Netanyahu will visit the US later this month. He will meet with President Barack Obama on May 20 and address a joint session of Congress four days later.
Netanyahu is also considering a visit to Canada, but no date has been set for the trip and it is unclear if he would stop there on this way to or from the US.
On Thursday, Netanyahu called Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to congratulate him on his electoral victory.

Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.