US nears ban on aid to Hamas-led PA

Two groups began lobbying in favor of easing restrictions.

The US Congress is moving closer to banning financial aid and restricting ties with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. The House of Representatives approved a non-binding resolution on this issue Wednesday, and the process of passing a binding bill against ties with Hamas is gaining momentum. The administration has not put any pressure to change the Palestine anti-terrorism act of 2006, but according to congressional sources, such pressure is expected, since the bill puts significant limitations on the ability of the executive branch to deal with the PA. Apart from stopping direct aid to the PA, if it is led by Hamas, the bill, cosponsored by leading Republicans and Democrats, also restricts aid to non-governmental groups in the PA territories and limits ties with Palestinians affiliated with a Hamas government. The bill does not include a waiver clause which would allow the president to bypass these restrictions in cases he sees as relating to the national interest. President George W. Bush has used existing waivers in the current law to funnel financial aid directly to the Mahmoud Abbas-led PA. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed, by a 418 to 1 majority, the non-binding resolution on Hamas. The resolution, first introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-S. Dak.), gained unanimous support in a Senate vote on February 1. Though this resolution is non-binding, the support it enjoyed in both chambers can serve as an indication to the way members of Congress will vote when the binding bill is brought before them. While the anti-Hamas legislation was endorsed by the mainstream Jewish community, two groups began lobbying Congress and the administration in attempt to ease the restrictions and to keep open communication channels. In an letter to Bush, rabbis affiliated with Brith Tzedek V'Shalom, a grassroots organization working to promote Arab-Israeli peace, stressed the fact that Hamas is a murderous terror organization, but at the same time called upon the administration to work for a continuation of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. "We urge constructive engagement with the new Palestinian government, in ways that bolster moderates such as President Mahmoud Abbas and sustain the cease-fire that has allowed for relative calm over the past year," said the letter signed by 16 prominent rabbis. Another Jewish organization, the Israel Policy Forum, is lobbying Capitol Hill in attempt to soften the language in the new anti-Hamas legislation. In a letter to the bill's cosponsors, the IPF requested that the legislation does not cut off altogether any form of financial support to the Palestinians, that it include a waiver which would allow the president to overrule the bill to conduct diplomatic negotiations and to take into consideration not only Hamas's statements but also its actions, specifically its adherence to the cease-fire. "For Israelis in particular," the letter said, "maintaining personal safety and everyday normalcy is extremely important." Pro-Palestinian organizations in the US have launched a campaign to prevent a cut in US humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. In a meeting scheduled for Friday, the organizations are expected to call on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to maintain aid to organizations working in the territories for the benefit of the Palestinian people.