WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Thursday it would reassess aid to Palestinians if the militant group Hamas joins the U.S.-backed Palestinian government, with several U.S. lawmakers already clamoring for funding to be cut off.
State Department spokeswoman Heide Bronke Fulton said the United States was continuing its assistance programs for now, while seeking more information on the emerging alliance between President Mahmoud Abbas' pro-Western Fatah party that governs in the West Bank and its rival, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
The two Palestinian groups said this week they have reached a tentative deal to end a four-year rift, but the United States, along with Israel and the European Union, considers Hamas a terrorist group, making it ineligible for direct American aid. When the Palestinians last had a unity government, the United States continued to channel some money to Abbas but with strict and complicated controls that barred diplomats from contacts with Hamas members and U.S. money from being directed to Hamas-run agencies.
The administration had hoped to provide more than $500 million in aid programs for Palestinians next year, but several lawmakers are already threatening to cut off the money.
"The Palestinian Authority has chosen an alliance with violence and extremism," said a joint statement Wednesday from seven Democratic and two Republican members of Congress after they met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, "U.S. taxpayer funds should not and must not be used to support those who threaten U.S. security, our interests and our vital ally, Israel."
Israeli leaders also rejected the Palestinian unity deal, saying it could destroy prospects for peace. They ruled out negotiations with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas.
Netanyahu convened his security Cabinet to discuss the deal, and Israeli President Shimon Peres called the Palestinian agreement a "grave mistake."
Abbas on Thursday insisted that he will retain control over Palestinian foreign policy and pledged his commitment to peace with Israel. Speaking in Ramallah, he stressed that there would be no Hamas representatives in the new government.