Congress Seeks to Suspend Aid to Palestine

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in no rush to judge the newly-formed Palestinian government, some U.S. lawmakers are already standing behind the idea to halt foreign aid to Palestine.

Last Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a new unity government, which brings together Abbas’ Fatah party, based in the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. The second party, to date,  is deemed a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel.

A day earlier, Kerry had spoken with Abbas over the phone, and expressed his concern about this move. However, he stated that the intention of the U.S. is not to rush any premature judgment about the newly-formed unity government.

According to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, “the Secretary expressed concern about Hamas’ role in any such government and the importance that the new government commit to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements with it,” and Abbas said the new government would commit to those principles.

However, according to U.S. republican Representative of California Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee, Palestine cannot be trusted as a “partner for peace,” and neither as a recipient of foreign aid, consequently.

The U.S. authorizes through Congress $500 million, annually, which is handed in the form of aid directly to the Palestinian government.

The second top lawmaker in the House, Virginia Representative Eric Cantor, stands in a less extremist position, stating the aid to Palestine should be suspended until the U.S. government has had a chance to assess the newly-formed Palestinian government.

Mahmoud Abbas, whose authority is highly dependent on foreign aid, reiterated his commitment to setting policies in line with U.S. and European demands. All this in hope of Western acceptance, despite Israeli opposition, of the 16-member cabinet formed of what he calls “politically unaffiliated technocrats.”

One of the main concerns of U.S. lawmakers is that the money given to Palestine as foreign aid will end up being used for other purposes, such as funding the U.S.-deemed terrorist organization Hamas. According to Cantor, “The laws of the U.S. prohibit assistance to terrorist organizations.”

On the other hand, New York Representative Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, considers that U.S. foreign aid remains an important element in promoting negotiation toward creating a two-state solution. This is despite expressing her “deep disappointment” with the decision of Palestinian leaders to include “the terrorist organization Hamas” in the newly formed government.

It is too early to tell what line of action will be adopted by the U.S. toward the new Palestinian government. But what it is clear is that this promises to be another polemic issue surrounding the Obama administration.

Sources: Reuters, The Hill 1, The Hill 2
Photo: Pat Dollard

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