(CNSNews.com) – Facing strong bipartisan support in Congress for defunding a Palestinian government that includes the terrorist group Hamas, the Obama administration on Tuesday stressed the importance of continuing the funding, arguing that the Fatah-Hamas power-sharing deal has changed nothing on the ground.
Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jacob Walles said Palestinian Authority and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad remained committed to a peaceful settlement with Israel and “deserve our continued support.”
Fatah and Hamas last May signed a reconciliation agreement and agreed to establish a “unity” government.
U.S. law – the 2006 Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act – makes assistance to the P.A. conditional on its compliance with obligations to renounce and combat violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by existing agreements.
Those conditions are essentially the criteria established by the so-called Mideast Quartet – the U.S., United Nations, European Union and Russia – for Hamas to be an acceptable partner in the negotiations process.
Hamas has made it clear that, notwithstanding its deal with Fatah, it has no intention to drop its non-recognition of Israel.
In his testimony, Walles noted that the unity agreement remains stalled, as “key issues remain unresolved between the two sides.” He said the administration would closely monitor developments.
“If a new government emerges, we will evaluate it carefully, and our assistance will be guided by all relevant U.S. law.”
The U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the P.A., Lt. Gen. Mike Moeller, told the panel that despite the unity deal signing, “there have been no changes in personnel, no significant changes in security practices on the ground, and, I should emphasize, no change in the chain of command.”
Even if the power-sharing deal has yet to move ahead, however, panel members raised concerns about Fatah’s decision to enter the agreement in the first place.
Ranking minority member Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) described the P.A. as having what in an individual would amount to a “split personality disorder” – with leaders voicing support for a peace settlement with Israel on one hand but taking troubling steps on the other including the deal with the “blood-soaked terrorists in Hamas.”
On the one hand the P.A. and Fatah were “officially in favor of peace,” but on the other their leaders continued to “glorify terrorists and fail to recognize in ways both large and small Israel’s existence and its right to live in peace and security.”
It was past time, Ackerman said, for the “convenient ambiguity” of the “Jekyll and Hyde government” to end.
Committee chairman Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) pointed to issues on ongoing concerns with P.A. behavior, including anti-Israel incitement.
“Eighteen years after [the Oslo accords] and despite having received billions in U.S. assistance, the Palestinian leadership continues to refuse to embrace the very vision of two states for two peoples,” he said. “Given the P.A.’s record and given U.S. law, how can we justify continued assistance?"
Lawmakers from both parties voiced support for cutting funding if the Fatah-Hamas unity process proceeds.
“We can’t be a party to providing dollars to terrorist organizations and to organizations who commit themselves to the destruction of the state of Israel,” said Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), describing the unity agreement as “an abomination.”
Negotiating with the P.A. was not “complicated” by Fatah’s integration with Hamas, argued Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.). “It obliterates its viability.”
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) called for lawmakers to sign a letter he has drafted to Rep. Harold Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriation Committee, requesting that funding to the P.A. be restricted in the upcoming Appropriations process.
Chabot said U.S.-Palestinian relations were “rapidly approaching a watershed moment,” citing both the Fatah-Hamas accord and the P.A. plans to seek international recognition at the U.N. in September.
Last Tuesday, the House vote passed a symbolic resolution by a 407-6 vote urging President Obama to consider suspending aid to the P.A. “pending a review of the [Fatah-Hamas] unity agreement.”
The six no votes came from Republican Reps. Ron Paul (Texas), Walter Jones (N.C.) and Justin Amash (Mich.), and Democrat Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.).