The United States said Friday it will end direct assistance to the Hamas-led Palestinian government but increase humanitarian aid to Palestinians delivered through the United Nations and other agencies. The European Union announced similar action earlier Friday.
The aid announcement caps an administration policy review, and comes after it became apparent that the new Palestinian government has no intention of meeting international conditions for joining the regional peace process.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said direct U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority will cease because the Hamas-led government has failed to accept principles laid down by the Middle East "Quartet" to renounce violence, recognize Israel, and embrace the peace commitments of its predecessor. "The United States is suspending assistance to the Palestinian government's cabinet and ministries. The new Palestinian government must take responsibility for the consequences of its policies. The path back to the road map is clear, acceptance of the three principles. If it accepts the Quartet principles or a new government comes to power that accepts them, funding can be restored," he said.
The spokesman reaffirmed the United States' commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what he said was its continued desire to help provide for the basic needs of the Palestinian people.
In keeping with that commitment, he said the U.S. aid program was being reconfigured and that basic humanitarian assistance for the current fiscal year would increase by 57 percent, to more than $240 million.
No direct funding to the Palestinian Authority had been planned for this year but more than $100 million had been provided since 2004, some of which was refunded at the request of the Bush administration after the Palestinian elections in January but before Hamas assumed power.
Some elements of the aid program are being re-worked to assure that funds do not pass through Hamas-led ministries.
Most of the funding will go to United Nations agencies, chiefly the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which supports Palestinian refugees and to which the United States has traditionally been the largest single contributor.
Senior administration officials said some details of the revised aid program are still being worked out. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch said some U.S. aid might yet go to agencies under the direct control of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate who has endorsed the Quartet road map:
"We support the president. He has indicated that his policy is one where he is calling for a negotiated peace that aims at a two-state solution. He wants to proceed within an environment of no violence and no terror. And he's one of the architects personally of the Oslo process. So under his leadership, the presidency subscribes to those conditions," he said.
Assistant Secretary Welch, who met Mr. Abbas in Jordan only a few days ago, said U.S. diplomatic contacts with the Palestinian presidency will continue but there will be none with Hamas, which the United States has long listed as a terrorist organization.
Welch also said there might be "highly-limited exceptions" to the policy of not dealing with officials of Hamas-led ministries, such as in helping the Palestinians contend with the current avian flu outbreak in Gaza.
The Bush administration has authorized the emergency delivery of a $500,000 worth of supplies, including protective suits to aid in the destruction of possibly contaminated Gaza poultry.