PA President Mahmud Abbas announced the formation of a new Palestinian unity government on 2 June pursuant to the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas signed on 23 April in Gaza City. The new PA cabinet, led by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, was comprised primarily of independent politicians and technocrats. Following the announcement, U.S. officials said the Obama administration would continue working with and maintain funding for the Palestinian government. Against a backdrop of Israeli criticism, the EU, China, and the UN made similar announcements, and on 5 June, Israel announced that it would expand construction in East Jerusalem and in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Echoing the Israeli stance, a bipartisan group of eighty-eight U.S. senators—forty-five Democrats, forty-two Republicans, and one independent—signed onto a letter protesting the Obama administration’s decision to maintain funding for the PA. Describing the unity government as “troubling,” the signatories argued that existing U.S. law prohibited aid transfers to any government in which Hamas was a member or in which Hamas had undue influence. (See S. 2370 of 3/6/06 at http://www.congressionalmonitor.org for a summary of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act and the relevant waivers it allows the president). The senators’ letter was initiated by Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and lauded by several pro-Israel lobbying organizations, including AIPAC.
The text of the letter follows, and a full list of signatories is available at www.cardin.senate.gov.
Dear Mr. President,
We are appreciative of your administration’s dedication to achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately, the recent formation of a Palestinian Authority unity government supported by Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization that has never publicly accepted the Quartet principles, represents a serious setback to efforts to achieve peace. We are gravely concerned that the formation of this government and President Abbas’ renewed effort to upgrade the status of the Palestinians within international organizations will jeopardize direct negotiations with Israel to achieve a two-state solution.
By its actions and inaction, Hamas has demonstrated it is not a partner for peace. Hamas has openly called for Israel’s destruction and last month Hamas leaders again repeated their refusal to meet recognized international demands: recognition of Israel, renunciation of terror, and acceptance of previous Israel-PLO agreements.
Recent events have consequences as to U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority as provided for in the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 and restrictions contained in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2014, including prohibition foreign assistance to Hamas or any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member or over which Hamas has undue influence. These troubling developments, including the role played by Hamas in the formation of the government, have undermined Congressional support for U.S. assistance to the Palestinians. Any assistance should only be provided when we have confidence that this new government is in full compliance with the restrictions contained in current law. We urge you to continue to impress on President Abbas the need for him to cease any alliance with terrorist organizations such as Hamas and to return to the negotiating table with Israel.