CONGRESSIONAL LEGISLATION CALLS FOR PALESTINIAN AID CUTOFF

By Harold Kirtz
SPECIAL FOR THE AJT

On June 2, the Palestinians announced a new government. Although this new government is the outcome of a reconciliation pact between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas, the cabinet is made up largely of nonpartisan professionals. This new government has said it will follow a peaceful program and is committed to international principles like the renunciation of violence and the recognition of Israel, although Hamas itself has not yet accepted those principles.

The primary purpose of the pact is allegedly to organize elections in approximately six months. Congressional legislation calls for a cutoff of aid to this new Palestinian Authority (PA) if it fails to adhere to the Quartet principles, which are (1) recognizing Israel’s right to exist; (2) renouncing the use of violence; and (3) respecting previously signed agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The legislation also calls for a cutoff of aid if an unreformed Hamas participates as a member in the PA or exercises “undue influence” over it. 

The administration, much to the consternation of the Israeli government, made the decision this past week that it would continue working with and funding the PA. The Israeli government has suspended its contact with the PA and participation in the peace negotiations, although, at least for the time being, security cooperation in the West Bank has not been affected. In addition, Israel has announced new settlement construction in response to the Palestinian moves, and the Palestinians are threatening to pursue their diplomatic initiative to isolate Israel at the UN and in other international forums.

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the Union for Reform Judaism have recently issued statements expressing concern about the Hamas-Fatah agreement as a blow to prospects for getting back to negotiations. Before the administration made its decision, AJC called on the U.S. and European governments not to recognize the new Palestinian government, while ADL urged a “pause” in funding, placing the burden on the PA to qualify to avoid a full cutoff under the legislation.

The umbrella agency for community relations, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), has requested professionals in the community relations field to communicate to decision- makers and opinion-molders that Hamas (a) remains a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction and (b) is an unacceptable partner as long as it does not embrace the Quartet’s principles, which, so far, it shows no signs of doing. According to Martin Raffel, VP of JCPA, the advice is also to urge the administration to carefully monitor the composition, policies, and actions of the new Palestinian government to make sure that it does not violate Congressional standards, and to continue to do everything the administration can to discourage Palestinian diplomatic initiatives intended to isolate Israel in the international community.

In announcing additional construction, Israel’s housing minister, Uri Ariel, published bids for the construction of nearly 1,500 housing units in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, calling them “an appropriate Zionist response to the establishment of the Palestinian terror government.” He said he believed this would be “just the beginning.” The new units are scattered among seven Jewish communities in the West Bank. In addition, the authorities revived plans on Thursday for 1,800 more housing units.

The New York Times reported that Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, said the Palestinians were carefully weighing their response, including preparing letters of complaint to the international bodies they joined in April, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, described Israel’s settlement announcement as “counterproductive.” I tend to agree with Eiland’s assessment. Israel has most of the cards currently. I am not disagreeing that Israel has a right to construct. But why the housing announcement now? Israel could afford to wait some months to see whether the new government is serious about accepting the Quartet’s conditions for reaching a peace agreement. No one is going anywhere; the present conflict is decades old. The Palestinians can either show they are serious about peace, or they can show that they are not really interested. Why not let them come forward seriously, or let them fall flat in front of the international community?

Harold Kirtz is on the national board of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and is past president of JCRC of Atlanta.