WASHINGTON – The Zionist Organization of America expressed its strong support this week for new federal legislation recently introduced in the House of Representatives that calls for tough restrictions on any U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority, now controlled by the terrorist organization Hamas. The Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of every Jew. Since the outbreak of the Palestinian terror war in September 2000, Hamas has killed 442 Israelis, wounding and maiming 2,244 more in scores of suicide bombings and hundred of other attacks.
The bill, entitled The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, was introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), and would place strict limits on the appropriation of federal money to the Palestinian Authority and specifically Hamas, the terrorist movement recently elected to run the government.
“Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s new bill lays down several important legislative markers restricting aid to the Palestinians,” said Murray Tenenbaum, Director of Government Relations for the ZOA. “Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, along with Congressman Tom Lantos, have worked tirelessly to get real restrictions and oversight on Palestinian assistance packages. This is now reflected in the legislation.”
Also known as H.R. 4681, the new bill includes many points lobbied for by the ZOA. It amends the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, calling for the president to certify that several conditions prevail before federal money can be appropriated to the Palestinian Authority.
These stipulations relate to major institutional changes, suspending all terrorist activities and infrastructure, including taking verifiable steps to supply media and textbooks that promote peaceful co-existence with Israel, ending commemoration of terrorists, ensuring consistent democratic elections, and an independent judiciary, and rendering all financial operations of all Palestinian government institutions transparent.
Importantly, the measure further calls for a suspension of U.S. funds to the United Nations until U.S. recommendations regarding Palestinian-related entities are implemented. The Secretary of State is required to review and report on all UN entities related to the Palestinians. Until the U.S. stipulations are met the U.S. will withhold an amount of UN funding equal to UN budget for Palestinian related programs.
The bill also calls for new restrictions on travel visas for all Palestinian Authority officials, and inserts a formal Congressional declaration of the Palestinian territory as a “sanctuary for terrorists.”
Introduced in early February, the bill has gained ground rapidly, and now boasts 87 co-sponsors, including House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Jane Harman (D-CA), ranking member of the Intelligence Committee.
Said Tenenbaum, “The Hamas election has awakened a lot of people to what Ros-Lehtinen, and others like Shelley Berkley of Nevada, have been saying all along, that we have never had sufficient accountability or oversight for this aid.”
Despite the growing appeal for the legislation, the bill’s passage will not occur without a struggle. Administration officials testifying this week on Capitol Hill argued for delaying such legislation until the new Palestinian government is formed.
David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, told members of Congress, “We need to wait and see what sort of Hamas government we have to deal with, and what the reactions from the international community will be.” Additionally members of the National Security Council have already approached Ros-Lehtinen’s office wanting the presidential waiver broadened, which as written is severely limited.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, when asked about future U.S. aid, said that the administration would continue to provide financial backing to the interim “caretaker government” and “await the outcomes of the government formation process because that will tell the tale of what is possible.”
The administration has a significant ally on this issue: House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL), who said recently on the floor that “tying the hands of the administration is not in the interest of United States’ national security” and that Congress should not “make final decisions in advance of the formation of the new Palestinian Cabinet.”
In the face of this push back, many prominent House members, including those who had previously supported aid to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, came out this week strongly in favor of the bill. At a March 2, 2006 hearing of the House International Relations Committee, State Department officials repeatedly answered Congressional inquiries on administration policy with a “wait-and-see” response, citing the need to see what Hamas will do with its newfound authority before U.S. policy could be determined.
Committee members Ros-Lehtinen, Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Shelly Berkley (D-NV) were not impressed.
“Israel needs a legitimate partner that seeks the same goals of peace and security,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “Hamas does not have those same goals.”
Rep. Engel read extensively from the text of the Hamas charter, including passages calling for the murder of every Jew and glorification of violence, and then asked, “How are we supposed to deal with these people?”
After hearing the “wait and see” response several times, Rep. Berkley asked with unconcealed astonishment, “Am I living in a parallel universe?”
Rep. Ackerman, a past advocate for supporting Abbas, stated flatly, “We all know that Hamas is a pack of blood-thirsty killers…The question is not ‘How can we fix this?’ the question is ‘How can we make this fail?'”
Ackerman also called for U.S. resolve toward a ‘comprehensive rejection’ of Hamas leadership. “Let me suggest that if Hamas can withstand the demands of the whole world, then the world’s single superpower ought to be able to muster the will to insist that blood-soaked terrorists are not partners for peace…not negotiating partners…not aid recipients…and will not be absolved for the hundreds they have killed.”
Morton A. Klein, National President of ZOA said, “The ZOA commends the courageous stand that Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and supporters of H.R. 4681 have taken in proposing this strong legislation and defending it against attempts to once again water-down the restrictions on Palestinian aid in the hope of some grand reformation of the Palestinian culture of violence. We urge ZOA members to speak to their Representatives in Congress in support of H.R. 4681.”