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November 21, 2017 4:40 pm

Legislators Voice Bipartisan Concern Over US Policy Toward Hamas, as Palestinian Terror Group Commits to Retaining Independent Military Capacity

avatar by Ben Cohen

An armed Hamas convoy drives through Gaza. Photo: Ma’an News Agency.

As Palestinian Hamas representatives reinforced their commitment to retaining an independent armed force ahead of new post-reconciliation talks with their rival Fatah counterparts in Cairo on Tuesday, several US legislators spoke of their unease that President Donald Trump’s administration may be softening its stance toward the Islamist terrorist organization.

A specific worry is the apparent distinction being made between the “political” and “military” wings of Hamas by some senior administration officials — including US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who described Hamas as having “political representatives” in a memo to the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the end of October.

“There is no distinction between the political and military wings of a group whose mission is terror,” Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) — one of a bipartisan group of eight House representatives who this week wrote to Haley outlining their concerns about US policy toward Hamas — said on Tuesday.

“Hamas is a terrorist organization, formed and wholly-dedicated to the destruction of our ally Israel, and responsible for the murders of countless people, including more than two dozen American citizens,” Schneider noted.

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The letter, initiated by Schneider and Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC), expressed “deep concern” about American policy with regard to Hamas, and more broadly the relationship between Hamas and Qatar. In particular, Haley’s October memo raised eyebrows over its claim that “the Qatari government does not fund Hamas” — a widely-noted reversal of her June 28 remark to the foreign affairs committee that the Saudi-led embargo on Qatar was “a good chance to tell Qatar to quit funding Hamas.”

In the same memo, Haley commented that the oil and natural gas-rich emirate – which has incurred the wrath of Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt over its relations with Iran — “does allow Hamas political representatives to be based in Qatar, which Qatar believes limits Iran’s influence and pressure over Hamas.”

The letter to Haley asserted, “This statement implies that the US now recognizes a distinction between the Hamas military and political wings and finds Qatar’s relations with and sanctuary for Hamas officials to be legitimate, which would be a change in US policy.”

The eight signatories urged Haley to clarify the administration’s stance on Qatar’s hosting of Hamas, and asked her to establish whether any steps had been taken to terminate the official Hamas presence in the emirate.

Haley’s recent comments are being filtered in Washington, DC through the lens of a battle within the White House and the State Department between rival Saudi and Qatari-leaning factions — with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seen as sympathetic to Qatar’s predicament. But neither that dispute, nor the bitter conflict in the Gulf region that it reflects, appears to have frayed Hamas’ commitment to pursuing terrorism against Israel, even after it signed a reconciliation agreement with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority on October 12.

While the deal between Hamas and Fatah ended the eight-year division between the PA-ruled West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza, important outstanding issues remain — foremost the status of the armed forces controlled by the Hamas leadership.

Hamas entered Tuesday’s talks unmoved from the insistence that its Al-Qassam Brigades, which has committed dozens of suicide bombing attacks against targets in Israel, remain intact after the reconciliation process is complete. That position was already clear on October 7, five days before the reconciliation agreement was announced, when Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that “the resistance’s weapons are legal.”

“They are here to protect Palestinians and free their lands — therefore, this should not be an issue to discuss,” Qassem said, in a statement repeated several times since then by Hamas leaders.

Meanwhile, a senior UN official warned on Tuesday that any failure in the talks between Hamas and Fatah would still be regarded as “critical.”

UN Middle East Envoy Nickolay Mladenov said that  “another devastating conflict” between the two rival factions could yet be “triggered by a meltdown of law and order in Gaza, by the reckless action of extremists or by strategic choice.”

“The result will be the same — devastation and suffering for all,” Mladenov continued. “This cycle must be avoided at all costs.”



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