The Bush administration believes that bucking up the PA is critical if Abbas supporters are to prevail against Hamas in the July legislative elections (some observers say that right now Hamas would pull 45% of the vote, a result that could be disastrous for the US and Israel, not to mention the Palestinians).
To demonstrate his commitment – and his view that it is a new day – Bush has asked Congress to provide $200 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority. For Bush, that aid would constitute a US down payment toward implementation of his vision of “two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.” Too late in the fiscal year for a regular Congressional appropriation, he “requested” what is known as a “supplemental.” He said it was a top priority.
And what has been the Congressional response to that request?
We found out on Tuesday. The answer was “yes, but….” There were so many “buts” that they rendered the “yes” almost meaningless.
The House Appropriations Committee attached a host of conditions to the aid which, amazingly, are more onerous than those placed on Palestinian aid when Yasir Arafat was in charge. Not only does Congress rightfully demand an end to terrorism and incitement (which, is, of course, the Bush policy), it wants “schools, mosques and other institutions…to promote peace and coexistence with Israel.” It demands investigations into Yasir Arafat’s finances. It wants the internet monitored for hate speech. The list goes on and on.
There is nothing wrong with conditions although adding additional conditions after Arafat has been replaced by a democratically elected leader is, at best, peculiar. The President wants to show support for Abbas and what the Appropriations Committee did is send a mixed, even cold, message.
The most remarkable part of the legislation approved by the Appropriations Committee is that it eliminates the discretion Presidents traditionally have to provide aid when national security requires it. This “national security waiver” – the one President Clinton had when he was in charge -- would allow Bush to provide the Palestinian aid as he sees fit even if the Palestinians are unable to fulfill every single Congressional requirement. The “national security waiver” is standard operating procedure. A President, after all, cannot have his hands tied on matters vital to our security.
Except in this case. Following a full-court lobbying effort by opponents of aid – not including the Israeli government which supports aid -- the waiver was dropped from the bill.
Why do so many powerful American backers of Israel hate the peace process much?