On Thursday, June 12, the spreading Congressional sentiment on defunding the Palestinian Authority escalated to a formal resolution in the House of Representatives. Some fifteen cosponsors, led by Representatives Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), have officially presented their resolution to defund the PA based on two violations of American law: the unity with Hamas and the recently-publicized program of monthly salaries paid to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons via the PA’s Ministry of Prisoners.
The resolution framers call for a “sense of the House” that all funding be stopped unless the PA takes verified actions “dissolving the unity government with Hamas,” regardless of any technocratic appearances, as well as “repealing the Law of the Prisoners and abolishing the Ministry of Prisoners … relating to compensation and recognition of convicted terrorists.”
Prior to today’s action, various preliminary resolutions were floated and announced from the floor of the House, such as an April 3, 2014 effort advanced by Ted Poe (R-TX), but those were never put to a vote. By entering the formal resolution, House procedures will automatically number it and refer it to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for a possible vote.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee is controlled by Chairman Ed Royce (D-CA) and its ranking member Eliot Engel (D-NY), both of whom have publicly warned the PA about a funding stoppage. If the new resolution survives the Foreign Affairs Committee, it then goes to the full House for an up or down vote.
According to Congressional analysts, the new “sense of the House” resolution is not only a policy document, it is “a messaging instrument to the Obama Administration and House appropriators.” Key among those appropriators is Nita Lowey, the ranking Democrat from Westchester County, NY.
Lowey sits on both the full Appropriations Committee and the key subcommittee governing State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. Foreign assistance begins and dies in this subcommittee. The Republican side of the aisle, including subcommittee chairwoman Kay Granger from Dallas, has been lining up staunchly against continued funding, citing the known legal obligations.
For Lowey, the question is whether she will break with the Obama Administration, which has signaled willingness to continue funding the new Hamas-infused Palestinian Authority. In some House quarters, the pending funding for the PA is referred to as the “Lowey Appropriation” with many staffers and members conceding she “is in the driver’s seat,” as one Appropriation Committee staffer phrased it.
Appropriation Committee staffers confirm the law is clear cut. One Lowey staffer readily pointed to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, Section 7020, Subsection F, entitled Prohibition to Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which unambiguously declares: None of the funds appropriated … may be obligated or expended for assistance to Hamas or any entity effectively controlled by Hamas, any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member, or that results from an agreement with Hamas and over which Hamas exercises undue influence.
The Lowey source explained, “The law is clear-cut, but what makes it complex is there are also important considerations. Are we subjecting ourselves to more danger? For example, is there a particular security assistance program? Should we stop that? Or, is it smarter to keep some of those of those programs going?”
On June 2, after the PA unification ceremony finished in Ramallah, Lowey issued this short warning: “I am deeply disappointed with the announcement today of a Palestinian government that includes the terrorist organization Hamas. As long as Hamas rejects the Quartet principles and the existence of the State of Israel, United States funding for this unity government is in jeopardy.”
Lowey sources explained that the White House now controls the current year’s appropriation, which is transferred in tranches. There is little possibility that will be stopped, they say. It is the new 2014-2015 appropriation that is under review. Even if the defunding move is successful in the House, a similar measure must pass in the Senate. The Congressional deadline for any decision is October 1, 2014, House sources say.
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