by SamInDC, Mon May 22, 2006 at 11:36:28 AM EDT
Today, the House of Representatives will vote on HR 4681, the "Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006." This bill threatens to exacerbate the growing humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories and reverse decades of US-led efforts towards peace. Isolating the Palestinian people and the NGOs working on the ground for peace will weaken Israel's security, damage our interests, and punish the wrong people.
There is broad agreement in Congress that direct aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), now under Hamas control, should be prohibited unless it renounces terror, recognizes Israel's right to exist, and embraces the Roadmap. There is also a broad consensus for encouraging the withholding of direct aid by US allies. That is not what H.R. 4681 is about.
This bill will severely constrain efforts to preserve support for institutions and activities essential to the emergence of a future Palestinian state that rejects terrorism and the destruction of Israel, and accepts co-existence and democracy. Inexplicably, H.R. 4681 targets non-governmental organizations (NGOs), essentially banning U.S. support for their work.
In addition to appropriately blocking direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, the bill would prohibit all assistance to the Palestinian people, other than narrowly-defined categories of humanitarian aid (excluding, for example, education and economic development). The Presidential waiver is narrowly restricted, limited to situations involving U.S. national security interests. Even then, it would impose onerous certification requirements whereby the State Department would be required - on a case-by-case basis - to consult with and report to Congress on why assistance is needed 25 days in advance of obligating funding. Forcing the Administration to jump through these hoops for each separate assistance project would inevitably curtail the amount and effectiveness of funding provided to NGOs working on the ground to promote peaceful reconciliation and build the capacity of Palestinian civil society.
The bill would also restrict diplomacy with moderate Palestinians by prohibiting visas and travel for all members of the PA and the Palestinian Libertation Organization (PLO), including those with no connection to Hamas. This overly strict provision would prevent the U.S. from fully engaging moderate leaders, like President Mahmoud Abbas, who support peace with Israel.
The State Department opposes the bill in its current form, arguing that the restrictions are onerous and unnecessary. Several leading pro-Israel organizations have registered their opposition to the bill, including the Israel Policy Forum, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, and Americans for Peace Now. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes the bill, as does Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition representing 21 mainstream Christian denominations and organizations. Also compelling is the lack of any endorsement from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or his administration.