Why are US lawmakers more enraged over Hamas-Abbas deal than AIPAC?

Israel lobby AIPAC has not called for halt to US aid to Abbas-run Palestinian Authority.


Issam Rimawi APA images

Prominent US lawmakers are demanding that the US immediately “halt” aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) after the formation yesterday of a “government of national consensus” endorsed by Hamas.

Republican senators Mark Kirk (Illinois) and Marco Rubio (Florida) issued a statement “calling on the Obama administration to halt and review US aid to the Palestinian Authority following President [Mahmoud] Abbas’ announcement of a new Hamas-backed transitional government.”

Kirk is a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and Rubio, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, has spoken about running for president in 2016.

But the senators’ position is at odds with that of leading Israel lobby group AIPAC, which has not called for an immediate halt to aid.

By going further than AIPAC, the two leading senators have revealed a split in Israel lobby reaction to the latest developments.

Yesterday, the Obama administration announced that it would work with the new PA government and continue its aid.

At odds with AIPAC

In its own statement, AIPAC claims that it was “greatly concerned and disappointed” by the “formation of a Palestinian Authority unity government backed by Hamas.”

AIPAC, however, notably does not call for aid to be “halted.” Rather it uses a more cautious formula: “US law is clear – no funds can be provided to a Palestinian government in which Hamas participates or has undue influence. We now urge Congress to conduct a thorough review of continued US assistance to the Palestinian Authority to ensure that the law is completely followed and implemented.”

Reached by telephone, Kirk staffer Danielle Varallo was apparently taken aback by Kirk’s deviation from the AIPAC line. Asked why Kirk called for a “halt” in aid when AIPAC didn’t, Varallo said that Kirk’s press release “doesn’t necessarily” call for a halt in aid.

When confronted with the clear language in the Kirk-Rubio statement, Varallo said further questions would have to be referred to Kirk’s legislative staff.

Confusion among Israel supporters?

Eric Cantor, the Republican majority leader in the US House of Representatives, echoed Kirk and Rubio in calling for halting aid. “Until such time that it is determined that assistance to this so-called technocratic government is consistent with our own interests, principles, and laws it is incumbent on the administration to suspend US assistance,” he said in a statement.

New York Representative Nita Lowey, the highest ranked Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, reportedly “stopped short of calling for a funding review, but said the unity government endangered US support for the Palestinian Authority.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), another leading anti-Palestinian lobby group, also expressed caution, saying it does “not believe the US should immediately end all funding to the Palestinian Authority.”

The ADL says it would “support the idea of a pause in funding US aid to see if the new government can qualify to avoid a full cut of funding under the 2006 Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act prohibiting US foreign aid to a Palestinian government which includes Hamas.”

Why the difference?

The reason that the US lawmakers are more extreme even than the powerful lobby group AIPAC is likely because they have somewhat different agendas: Kirk, Rubio and Cantor are pandering to an electorate and to campaign donors for whom acknowledging the very existence of Palestinians – like recognizing the reality of climate change – can be a major political liability.

It is also a way for Republicans to bash Obama as “soft on terrorism” or unfairly accuse him of being insufficiently pliant to Israel’s demands.

AIPAC’s role, however, is to push the Israeli government’s agenda. While Israel is publicly furious about the Abbas-Hamas deal, in reality, the Israeli government continues to work closely with PA security forces – collaboration that is funded and supported by US aid.

Netanyahu-Abbas partnership

Palestinian Authority de facto leader Mahmoud Abbas recently stated that his collaboration with the Israeli army is a “sacred” duty.

This partnership between occupier and occupied was recently praised by Martin Indyk, the career Israel lobbyist put in charge of the “peace process” by US President Barack Obama.

The “IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the Shin Bet now highly appreciate” Abbas’ ongoing work with them, Indyk told an Israel lobby think tank in Washington last month.

“If there’s one thing [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] doesn’t want to do, it’s cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse,” observes Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid, who notes that Israel’s angry reaction has gone little beyond words.

Indeed, as leading Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea recently observed, Netanyahu is the Palestinian Authority’s “savior,” repeatedly stepping in to ensure its survival so it can continue to perform its functions.

Despite its bluster, Israel remains closely allied with the Palestinian Authority, on which it relies to maintain control of millions of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank.

And this means that as long as the Abbas-run PA continues to serve as Israel’s native enforcer, AIPAC will ensure that the funds from Washington continue to flow into its coffers.