- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 28, 2011

Leaders of a powerful House Appropriations subcommittee are threatening to cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority if it goes ahead with plans to form a unity government with Hamas.

On Wednesday, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas announced an agreement stating an intent to form a unity government. Hamas is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization that is the effective ruler of Gaza. The agreement also promises to hold elections within a year.

The Palestinian Authority is set to receive $550 million in aid from the United States this year. But that funding is in danger.

A letter sent to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday from Rep. Kay Granger, Texas Republican, and Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat, threatens to cut off the U.S. money if Mr. Abbas moves forward with plans to join forces with Hamas.

“We have been strong supporters of aid to the Palestinian Authority in the hopes of ensuring prosperity, stability, and peace for the Palestinian people and all people in the region,” the two lawmakers stated. “However, our ability to support current and future aid would be severely threatened if you abandon direct negotiations with Israel and continue with your current efforts.”

Ms. Granger is chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on state, foreign operations and related programs, which controls foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority. Ms. Lowey is the ranking member of the subcommittee.

The announcement in Cairo on Wednesday of plans for the unity government was surprising based on the recent history of infighting between Hamas and the Fatah party, to which Mr. Abbas belongs.

Hamas won a greater percentage of seats to the Palestinian legislature in 2006, but Fatah refused to give control of ministries to Hamas legislators at the urging of Israel and the United States. In 2007, Hamas gunmen took over the security ministries in Gaza, and they have exercised local control of that territory since then.

The United States under both President George W. Bush and President Obama has discouraged the Palestinian Authority from forming a unity government with Hamas.

Ms. Granger and Ms. Lowey stated that “U.S. aid is predicated on the premise that your government has demonstrated a firm commitment to pursuing efforts to establish a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace with Israel.”

Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate for the Palestinian territories, has rejected negotiations with Israel over an end to the conflict and considers a Jewish state in the territory to be illegitimate.

The response from Ms. Granger and Ms. Lowey is stronger than the response from the Obama administration or the European Union, which is the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority.

Administration officials on Thursday said they would not support the Fatah-Hamas unity government unless it commits to principles spelled out by the so-called Quartet, a group comprising the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union that looks to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those conditions include recognition of prior agreements between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

European Union officials on Thursday said they would study the Palestinian proposal.

The move for a unity government comes as Mr. Abbas is pushing to pass a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. General Assembly in September. The State Department also has said it opposes the unilateral declaration.

Mr. Obama’s initial strategy to restart peace negotiations faltered late last year after Israel declined the U.S. request to extend a freeze on all settlement construction activity and Mr. Abbas declined to participate in any talks with Israel absent such a freeze.

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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