WASHINGTON, AP – The Bush administration is putting the squeeze on the Hamas-led Palestinian government, suspending all U.S. aid to its Cabinet and ministries until it recognizes Israel or is replaced by a government that accepts peacemaking with the Jewish state.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in announcing the tough action involving hundreds of million of dollars over several years, said in a statement Friday: “The new Palestinian government must take responsibility for the consequences of its policies.”
At the same time, Rice renewed U.S. support for establishment of a Palestinian state and said “it is also our desire to help provide for the basic human needs of the Palestinian people.”
The emergence of Hamas as the most popular force among the Palestinians ruptured already dim peacemaking prospects in the Middle East. The group, classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, which also cut off all aid to the Palestinian government, is considered responsible by Israel for dozens of attacks killing some 400 Israelis.
The thrust of the Bush administration’s decision on assistance will have a large impact on the Palestinians themselves. In Gaza, their faltering economy is below the U.N. poverty line and is dipping down in that direction on the West Bank.
The suspension of any direct aid to the Palestinian government, for instance, means no American help to pay the salaries of some 140,000 government workers. With their dependents they account for about one-third of the Palestinian population.
Meanwhile, the United States will redirect about $100 million from canceled projects to humanitarian assistance such as food and medicine, a 57 percent increase, officials said.
Some $130 million in infrastructure projects such as road construction will be cut, along with $20 million for small-business development and financial reform, $10 million for judicial programs and $4 million in community policing.
Another $165 million in ongoing project will be suspended pending further review, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said.
The United States had already canceled $45 million in direct aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Rice said the path back to peacemaking requires acceptance of dealing with Israel, past agreements with the Palestinians and an end to terror attacks. If the Palestinian government “or a new government comes to power” to accept those principles U.S. funding can be restored, she said.
It was not immediately clear how the U.S. action, and a parallel cutoff by the European Union, would impact Hamas.
In the meantime, the Bush administration plans no aid to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a holdover who had taken a more moderate line toward Israel and whose future power is uncertain.
Welch said the administration supports Abbas and would continue contacts with him.
But the U.S. official said, “This is fully and totally a Hamas government, from the prime minister through the Cabinet on down to the people who work in those ministries. We will have no association with the government.”
Meanwhile, Israeli aircraft leveled the deadliest attack in Gaza since the Hamas-led government took office and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Abbas met to try to settle some of their growing differences.