U.S. officials have briefed members of Congress on what the Bush administration believes must happen in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. The Israel-Palestinian situation was discussed in a congressional hearing, and also came up during discussions between lawmakers and visiting Jordanian King Abdullah.
Although lawmakers have some hope the Israeli withdrawal can improve chances for progress, many remain pessimistic that the Palestinian Authority will exert control over radical groups such as Hamas.
Congresswoman Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Middle East subcommittee, says the Palestinian Authority must show it can effectively and successfully govern Gaza. "They must not only restore law and order but verifiably dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, and ensure it is not used as a staging ground for terrorist attacks against Israel," she said.
The hearing took place against the background of remarks by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the wake of a statement by the Quartet mediation group on the Middle East urging the Palestinian Authority to dismantle what it called terrorist capabilities and infrastructure.
The Quartet includes the United States, Russia, European Union and the United Nations.
Dealing with radical groups, President Abbas said Wednesday, is a Palestinian responsibility, asserting that Palestinians are more capable than others of dealing with each other.
Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, C. David Welch, says Mr. Abbas has major challenges ahead. "Although President Mahmoud Abbas has taken some steps to assert control, overall Palestinian Authority performance to date has been far from satisfactory. The [Palestinian Authority] must move quickly to establish order and to take steps to dismantle the infrastructure of terror," he said.
Republican Congressman Thad McCotter reflects dismay in Congress that Hamas has been brought into the Palestinian Authority. "What happens in a democratic Palestinian Authority were terrorist groups allowed to participate in the political process and then be elected to political positions, would seem to me to be a particular problem down the road," he said.
"This is a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist. How do you bring them into your government and then say, we want peace now with Israel?," said Democratic Congresswoman Shelley Berkley shares the concern.
Lieutenant General William Ward, U.S. coordinator for security assistance to the Palestinians, says Palestinian security reform is connected to larger issues. "Long-term progress in security sector reform must continue to coincide with the Palestinian Authority's broader reform efforts of promoting accountable governance, and stopping corruption," he said.
The question of the role of Hamas in upcoming Palestinian elections was raised in talks Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe and other lawmakers had with Jordanian King Abdullah who came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
"I think His Majesty agrees we need to do everything we can to support Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and the Palestinian Authority, to make sure that his police have the tools they need to provide the security," Mr. Kolbe said. "That is the big question there. The Israelis are reluctant to allow any kinds of weapons across, into Gaza, into the West Bank, to the security forces, but if he doesn't have those security forces properly armed he can't do the job."
Some members of Congress are also concerned that without a strong Palestinian Authority commitment to controlling radical groups, money the United States is providing to Palestinians to help spur economic growth $225 million in 2005 will be wasted.