The announcement on Wednesday that rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas had signed a reconciliation agreement was made unwelcome by several United States Congress people, who said the reconciliation could result in a cutting of U.S. aid to the resulting Palestinian government.
Congresswomen Kay Granger of Texas and Nita Lowey of New York, Chair and Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, sent a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, warning him of the implications of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation on the U.S. assistance (since 1994, it topped $ 3.5 billion, and the U.S. is also the largest donor to UNRWA, the agency taking care of the Palestinian refugees).
In the letter, they urged Abbas to abandon the reconciliation plan.
“We write to express serious concerns about your intentions to seek recognition of an independent Palestinian state at the United Nations and the pursuit of a unity government with Hamas, which has not recognized the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist. We urge you to end these actions and return to direct negotiations with Israel, which will provide the only path to a viable and durable two-state agreement," the letter read.
“U.S. aid is predicated on the premise that your government has demonstrated a firm commitment to pursuing efforts to establish a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace with Israel. As you know, U.S. law also requires a commitment to countering terrorism, confiscating weapons, and dismantling terrorist infrastructure. In addition, it prohibits aid to Hamas, Hamas-controlled areas, and any power-sharing government that includes Hamas, until Hamas publicly acknowledges the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist and commits to a two-state solution Your current courses of action undermine the purposes and threaten the provision of United States assistance and support. We have been strong supporters of aid to the Palestinian Authority in the hopes of ensuring prosperity, stability, and peace for the Palestinian people and all people in the region. However, our ability to support current and future aid would be severely threatened if you abandon direct negotiations with Israel and continue with your current efforts,” the letter added.
Earlier, U.S. House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, released a statement saying "According to existing U.S. law, such a hybrid government cannot be a recipient of U.S. taxpayer funds because the law stipulates that the PA government must recognize the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist, among other things. Therefore, in order to implement existing law, the U.S. must end assistance to the Palestinian Authority."
She criticized Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas' decision to reconcile with Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, saying that he has shown that his leadership "is not a partner for peace."
"If reports are correct, the PA would then be standing with those who want only death and destruction for Israel," Ros-Lehtinen.
Since the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the mid-90s, the U.S. government has committed over $3.5 billion in assistance to the Palestinians, and the United States is the largest single-state donor to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
The official White House response to the announcement was to reiterate that Hamas was a "terrorist organization". They also said that any Palestinian government would have to renounce violence. A U.S. official said it would also have to respect past peace deals and recognize Israel's right to exist.
Several other U.S. representatives responded to the announcement, including Mark Kirk, the Republican Senator from Illinois, who tweeted “Hamas + Fatah = probable suspension of U.S. aid to Palestinian Authority...Hamas supports terror, killed 26 American citizens."
“A unity government with Hamas would put U.S. assistance and support at risk, based on restrictions I authored as Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations,” Rep. Nita Lowey, A Democrat from New York said.
Congressman Gary Ackerman, warned that the reconciliation is “a recipe for failure, mixed with violence, leading to disaster” and “a ghastly mistake that I fear will be paid for [with] the lives of innocent Israelis”.
This is not the first time that the idea of cutting aid to the Palestinians has been raised.
Several lawmakers brought the issue up in the context of a possible response to the expected September announcement of a Palestinian state.
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