Searching for Victims: Israeli troops check a map during a search for three Israeli teenagers believed kidnapped by Palestinian militants. Israel's prime minister has called on the Palestinian Authority president to break his pact with Hamas. (HAZEM BADER/AFP)
WASHINGTON — The US Congress is targeting the Palestine Authority (PA) with a cutoff of funds unless US President Barack Obama can justify how continued support to Ramallah advances national security needs.
Moves by both houses of Congress to terminate two decades of economic and security assistance come in response to the June 2 establishment of a new Fatah-led consensus government backed by Hamas, a US-declared terrorist organization.
The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a 2015 foreign operations bill that bars aid to the PA from some $440 million in proposed funding.
The Senate’s version of its 2015 foreign operations bill, which includes similar language barring funding to the PA, was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 19.
Unlike previous years, when the House banned funding for a government over which Hamas “exercises undue influence,” this year’s language targets any type of power-sharing government “that results from an agreement with Hamas.”
It also imposes strict conditions under which Obama can waive the funding ban. According to language approved last week, Obama must not only certify that the new government recognizes Israel, renounces violence and commits to honor previous agreements, but that it acknowledges Israel as “a Jewish state.”
“Funding for the Palestinians is off the table until it is clear that the unity government is committed to peace and security,” said Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee.
While Senate appropriators — like their House colleagues — challenged Obama to justify conditions under which funding restrictions should be waived, they allowed the president greater leeway for exercising waiver rights.
A much more restrictive bill, introduced in April by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., failed to attract sufficient support by Senate colleagues.
Labeled the “Stand With Israel Act,” the bill aimed to rescind the president’s right to waive funding for any type of Palestinian unity government.
Congressional action on the funding halt comes at a time of unprecedented coordination between the PA’s Fatah-commanded security force (PSF) and thousands of Israeli ground troops maneuvering through the West Bank in search of three victims of an alleged Hamas kidnapping.
Israeli security officials have urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fervently opposed to the Hamas-led government, to refrain from diplomatic or other action that could trigger collapse of ongoing coordination with the PSF.
Similarly, supporters of Israel who champion a two-state peace deal between Israel and the PA warn that a precipitous halt in US funding will undermine PA President Mahmoud Abbas and ultimately harm Israeli security interests.
“Funding for the PA’s security services is in Israel’s national security interests,” said Ori Nir, spokesman for the Washington-based Americans for Peace Now public policy organization.
In a interview Wednesday, Nir warned that pulling the plug on US aid would harm Israel as much as the PA.
“Israeli military commanders in the West Bank will tell you just how valuable their security coordination with the PA is. Many deaths of innocent Israelis have been avoided due to this coordination, as has the eruption of mass Palestinian violence,” said Nir, an Arabic-speaking former Israeli journalist who specialized in Palestinian affairs.
He noted that Abbas has vehemently condemned the June 12 abduction and vowed to uphold security coordination with Israel, which he described as a “sacred” top priority for the new consensus government.
Israel announced Thursday — 13 days into “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” the ongoing incursion throughout the West Bank — its arrest of two Hamas operatives suspected of main roles in the abduction.
Following the arrests, Netanyahu called on Abbas to stand by his earlier words of condemnation and “break his pact with the Hamas terrorist organization.”
Since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, the Fatah-administered PA has received more than $5 billion in US economic and security assistance. ■