There is little doubt that Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas carefully studied US law before he and the militant group Hamas announced their unity government this week. The new government, which will rule until elections are held, consists almost entirely of technocrats. None are active members of Hamas.
That’s because Abbas does not want to run afoul of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006. Passed in the wake of a Hamas parliamentary victory, the law states that no American aid can flow to the Palestinian Authority unless the president certifies that “no ministry, agency, or instrumentality” is effectively controlled by Hamas.
“They threaded the needle,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a specialist on Palestinian politics at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Although Hamas has agreed to the new government and helped select its members, none of the ministers actually represent the militant group. For this reason, Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged to work with the new cabinet, pointing out that key positions — including the prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers, and the finance minister — remain the same as the previous Palestinian government he has been working with.
So it looks as if aid to the Palestinians will keep flowing, at least for the time being. That’s a good thing. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who blasted the unity deal, knows that cutting off all aid to the Palestinians would hurt rather than help the cause of peace and security.
It remains to be seen what the United States will do if Hamas sweeps the elections that are slated to be held in both Palestinian territories, Gaza and the West Bank, in six months. Even if that happens, Congress should avoid a wholesale halting of assistance. It is not in the interests of the United States or Israel to defund the security cooperation that has helped keep the territories safe, or to dismantle efforts to create more stable, prosperous Palestinian institutions.
Despite very valid concerns about Hamas, which has not renounced violence or recognized Israel’s right to exist, the end of seven years of infighting among Palestinians is a positive step. The bloody rivalry between Hamas and Fatah did little good and much damage. It made it harder to broker a peace deal, not easier, because Abbas only represented half of Palestinians at the negotiation table. Rather than working to destroy Palestinian unity, the international community should focus its efforts on making this new Palestinian government as successful, responsible, and accountable as possible.