As I reported earlier today, there are strong grounds under existing law for banning aid to a Fatah-Hamas government. In 2006, the Bush administration was decisive: Aid was cut once Hamas won the elections. It was reinstated only when the Palestinian Authority separated from Hamas.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration is not making itself clear. To date the only official statement has come from National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor. I spent much of the day trying to get clarification or explanation from the State Department. At the end of the day, I finally got this non-response: “We don’t have anything to add beyond Tommy Vietor’s earlier comments.”
However, a State Department official authorized to speak only on background was a bit more expansive, albeit not definitive. He said, “We have seen the press reports and are seeking more information. As we have said before, the United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace. To play a constructive role, any Palestinian government must accept the Quartet principles by renouncing violence, accepting past agreements, and recognizing Israel’s right to exist.” For now it is business as usual, he explained: “I note that the current Palestinian government remains in place and our assistance programs continue. As I said, we have seen press reports and are seeking more information. Our current support to the Palestinian Authority, as led by President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, serves as an important contribution to U.S. efforts to support the building of Palestinian institutions that are necessary for a future state.”
As for the future, there was no line-drawing. The official would only say, “If a new Palestinian government is formed, we will assess it based on its policies at that time and will determine the implications for our assistance based on U.S. law.”
This is the sort of maddening imprecision that seems to be designed to give maximum encouragement to the Palestinians and produce maximum anxiety for Israel and its Zionist supporters. A savvy Israel watcher on Capitol Hill told me that it seems that with regard to the Fatah-Hamas pact, the administration is “either in denial or hoping it will collapse.” However, though some in the administration might pine for a loophole to continue to support a coalition government that includes Hamas (or Hamas officials), Congress is another story.
A Capitol Hill aide told me, “So long as Hamas remains a terrorist organization they are more likely to receive U.S.-made bullets than a single U.S. cent. Hamas even considering the Quartet principles is either one of the biggest jokes in recent Middle East history or the most significant diplomatic step in the region since Sadat landed at Ben-Gurion Airport 34 years ago. I wouldn’t bet on the latter.” That sentiment, as I reported earlier, is widespread and bipartisan. A bipartisan group of congressmen traveling in Israel made it clear in a statement: “The United States should not aid an entity whose members seek the destruction of the State of Israel and continue to fire rockets and mortars at innocent Israeli children. If the Palestinian Authority follows through on this decision, American law dictates that US assistance to the Palestinian Authority will end.”Look for Congress to take action when it returns next week.
It’s remarkable, really, that the administration can’t issue a definitive statement on a clear principle of American policy and law: We will not support a terrorist organization or state. Josh Block, a longtime Democratic pro-Israel activist and former spokesman for AIPAC, put it this way: “One wonders sometimes why diplomats say with a mouthful of marbles what they could say so simply. Like: ‘Hey, you guys. We don’t give money to terrorists. Hamas is a bunch of murderous terrorists supported by Iran. They have no place in a government that expects support from the United States. It’s us or them. Choose us, choose peace, not terrorism. Oh, and bad choices have consequences.’”
The most charitable explanation of the double-talk is that the administration is paralyzed. As Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies put it, “Hamas has made no concessions. It remains what it has been: a Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organization openly committed to the extermination of Israel. No U.S. administration should support that — least of all with money from American taxpayers. I don’t believe the Obama administration will. But adjusting to reality may take a while.”
The most ominous interpretation of the mush coming from the State Department is that the administration is so rudderless, unprincipled and desperate to avoid a clear defeat in its efforts to foist a “peace agreement”on the parties that it would go so far as to continue to do business with the PA, despite taking on a partner that has killed Americans, seeks Israel’s destruction and, from behind the skirts of women and the cribs of children, has conducted a missile bombardment of Israel.