WASHINGTON: Palestinian leaders risk forfeiting millions of dollars in U.S. aid if they press ahead with plans to form a unity government including militant Hamas members, U.S. lawmakers and officials warned Tuesday.
“Let me be utterly clear about our policy towards Hamas,” Assistant Secretary for the Near East Anne Patterson told a House hearing.
“No U.S. governmental money will go into any government that includes Hamas until Hamas accepts the Quartet conditions. And that’s renouncing violence, recognizing previous agreements and most explicitly recognizing Israel’s right to exist.”
In a surprise deal Palestinian leaders from the West Bank and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip last week agreed to work together after years of bitter rivalry.
But the move has been denounced by Israel which has cancelled its participation in the peace talks. The deadline to achieve a deal expired Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s intensive months-long efforts in tatters.
In an address to PLO leaders on Saturday, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said the new government, which will be made up of political independents, would recognize Israel, reject violence and abide by existing agreements.
Under Wednesday’s PLO-Hamas accord, Abbas would head an “independent government” of technocrats, to be formed within five weeks.
That new interim administration would be charged with holding parliamentary and presidential elections within six months of taking office.
“Let me be clear: No Palestinian government that includes terrorist members of Hamas can or will receive U.S. funding,” representative Ted Deutch told the hearing into the 2015 budget priorities for the Middle East and North Africa.
Sub committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the Palestinian reconciliation deal had “major implications” for the fiscal year 2015 budget, which begins in October.
The administration was “seeking over $440 million in direct bilateral assistance for the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank and Gaza,” she said.
But U.S. law is clear that “it cannot send funds to a Palestinian government that includes members of the terrorist group Hamas.”
Hamas has been blacklisted by the U.S. since 1993 as a terrorist organization.
But Patterson said that Abbas and the leadership of Hamas “hate each other.”
“There is some thought that one way to get rid of Hamas is to hold an election because that’s how they entered the political process and that’s how Abu Mazen, President Abbas, should get rid of them.”
She recalled though that previous reconciliation attempts had failed and stressed “the Palestinian Authority needs our support.”