WASHINGTON (AP) — The Palestinian Authority's latest push to establish a reconciliation government with the militant group Hamas jeopardizes hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid that the self-ruling body has consistently received for nearly two decades.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats signaled that any permanent arrangement between the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization that has called for the destruction of Israel, would force the United States to end some $400 million in economic and security aid provided annually.
The law states that no foreign aid can be provided to "any entity effectively controlled by Hamas, any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member, or that results from an agreement with Hamas and over which Hamas exercises undue influence."
The leaders of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign aid — Reps. Kay Granger, a Republican, and Nita Lowey, a Democrat, — said the agreement clearly threatens the money the Palestinian Authority has grown accustomed to receiving.
Since the mid-1990s, the United States has provided some $5 billion in bilateral aid to the Palestinians.
"Not only does this action potentially derail any hope of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, it puts in jeopardy future U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority," Granger, who was traveling in Asia, said in a statement. "This is an irresponsible path forward and this agreement should be abandoned immediately if the Palestinian Authority is serious about the peace process."
Lowey said she would be working with the State Department on the logistics of suspending aid unless Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reverses course.
"At this point the law is clear, their actions are clear and the path forward is clear," Lowey said in an interview Thursday with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The top Republican on the Senate panel responsible for determining foreign aid — Lindsey Graham — called the Palestinian Authority's move a "provocative act" and said he hoped Congress "will take a forceful stand against this decision."
The State Department said it was premature to discuss the status of foreign aid to the Palestinians. Similar reconciliation agreements between Abbas' Fatah party and Hamas have collapsed in the past. The current timetable calls for the formation of an interim unity government within five weeks, close to the time that U.S. lawmakers will be deciding on foreign assistance in the fiscal year 2015 budget.
Republicans and Democrats have threatened to cut off aid in the past in response to previous, unsuccessful reconciliation agreements and efforts by the Palestinians to secure statehood recognition in the United Nations.
Amid the criticism, lawmakers have recognized that the aid provides humanitarian and economic assistance while ensuring a degree of security and stability in the West Bank. Israel has typically supported the aid money for the Palestinians.
But any aid to a government entity with Hamas is out of the question for Congress, not only as a violation of the law barring aid to a terrorist organization but as an affront to Israel. The law carries no waivers that would allow the Obama administration to move ahead with the money.
The aid could only flow if Hamas recognizes the state of Israel and renounces violence, moves no one expects.
The latest pact forced the collapse of already tenuous peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, with negotiations suspended and prospects increasingly dim for the elusive two-state solution.
Republicans made it clear that the Obama administration cannot pressure Israel to revive the talks as long as Hamas is part of the equation.
"Israel cannot be reasonably expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, permits its territories to be used to launch rockets against Israeli civilians, and continues to seek Israel's destruction," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican and a member of the Armed Services Committee. "We would not expect that of our government, and we should not expect it of Israel either."
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, said if the reconciliation agreement holds, an independent Palestine must affirm Israel's right to exist.