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US Lawmakers Propose Tough Legislation Aimed at Hamas


House of Representatives lawmakers are proposing legislation to cut off U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority following the Hamas election victory. Sponsors say Congress needs to act swiftly and decisively to send the message that Hamas must renounce terrorism and its stated objective of destroying Israel.

In announcing the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, the bipartisan group of lawmakers did not mince words about the aims of the legislation.

Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Middle East Subcommittee, said "We would hope that everything, every word in this bill does everything possible to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the new government, because the new government is a terrorist government."

The legislation proposes to cut off assistance to the Palestinian Authority, and treat it as a terrorist entity because of Hamas' State Department designation as a foreign terrorist organization.

U.S. officials would be banned from diplomatic contacts with Palestinian Authority officials who are members of Hamas.

The bill calls for a ban on visas for officials or members of the Palestinian Authority.

The bill would also withhold U.S. contributions to the United Nations in an amount equal to what the world body provides to the Palestinian Authority, or Palestinian entities and programs.

Other steps include travel restrictions on Palestinian officials at the United Nations, and the closure of any other Palestinian offices in the United States.

Lawmakers were blunt in responding to reporters who suggested that Congress, and the Bush administration, are hypocritical in refusing to support a democratically-elected government.

Democrat Tom Lantos rejects what he calls "the naïve notion" that an election automatically bestows legitimacy.

"Let me remind ourselves that Hitler was elected to office in free and open elections," he noted. "Now, elections are an important component, but certainly not all of the components of building a free and open democratic society."

Republican Congressman Eric Cantor says the legislation does not contradict longstanding U.S. policy and congressional positions on terrorism. "The Bush administration has been very clear about democracy," said Mr. Cantor. "Democracy is the route to peace [and] freedom. But, with democracy, comes choice and accountability. The Palestinian people have chosen Hamas, have chosen terror. And I think we have all said, as has the president and his administration, that choices have consequences."

Republican Congressman Steve Chabot says Hamas knows what it must do, if it wants to have any legitimacy.

"As long as Hamas remains a terrorist organization, there is no place for it in the political process," he added.

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen says negotiations are continuing with the White House on what the legislation might look like in final form. She says the Bush administration wants to ensure it will have sufficient authority to waive portions for national security reasons.

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