WASHINGTON – Mahmoud Abbas, whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused of incitement, has said the Jewish state practices genocide and called the temporary closure of the Temple Mount after a terrorist attack a “declaration of war.”
Yet virtually no one in Washington wants Abbas to do anything but what he’s done for nine years: be president of the Palestinian Authority. For that matter, neither does Netanyahu.
That means the $500 million annually the PA receives in U.S. funding is unlikely to stop, and that warnings from American politicians to Abbas are relatively mild, if expressed at all.
“The Palestinian Authority will be getting aid from America because we want a two-state solution, but you better get your act together,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who as incoming chairman of the foreign operations subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee will hold considerable sway over foreign assistance, told the Israeli American Council earlier this month in reference to the PA.
Keeping Abbas in power and the PA in place reflects Israeli policy, said Dan Arbell, a former deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy.
“The Israeli government is not interested in the collapse of the Palestinian Authority,” said Arbell, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution who teaches at American University here. “There may be faults in Abbas and the leadership and in what they’re doing, but they’re still the safest bet.”
That’s because Abbas is presiding over a West Bank where the violence that wracked the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip over the summer and Jerusalem in recent weeks is barely simmering. Should Abbas and the PA go, Hamas could take their place.
The Obama administration is not encountering congressional resistance to continued assistance to the Palestinian Authority in part because of strict oversight that ensures the funds reach their designated targets and because the cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security services is seen as key to keeping the West Bank from boiling over.
At the same time, congressional appropriators last week wrote to Abbas asking him to end incitement.
U.S. law “clearly stipulates that the Palestinian Authority must act to counter the incitement of violence against Israelis in order to continue receiving U.S. assistance,” said the letter from Reps. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee; Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), its top Democrat; and Kay Granger (R-Texas), the chairwoman of its foreign operations subcommittee.
But the letter does not directly threaten a cutoff. Instead, it urges Abbas to “return to direct negotiations with Israel.”
Last April, after the collapse of the U.S.-brokered peace talks, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, reflecting Netanyahu’s policies, urged lawmakers to review funding for the Palestinians. Abbas’s overtures to Gaza’s Hamas rulers, with both his Fatah party and Hamas backing a government of technocrats, may have made the PA ineligible for funds, AIPAC argued.
Now, in the wake of the summer’s Gaza war and the violence in Jerusalem, AIPAC frames funding for the PA as a necessary means of ensuring that Abbas keeps cooperating with Israel on security.
In a memo last week, after Palestinian terrorists murdered four rabbis and a policeman at a Jerusalem synagogue, AIPAC listed Abbas’s alleged incitements, including his call for Palestinians to prevent settlers from entering the Temple Mount by “any means” and to keep the Temple Mount from being “contaminated” by extremists.
But the AIPAC memo, while noting that tamping down incitement was a condition for aid, also reflected in its recommendations the Israeli investment in Abbas as a bulwark against further violence and Hamas.
“The PA must continue security cooperation with Israel and take responsibility for controlling the border crossings into Gaza,” the memo said.