By a 361 to 37 majority, the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday approved legislation calling for sanctions against the Palestinian Authority following the Hamas election victory earlier this year. The White House remains opposed to the legislation.
The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act had the support of a vast majority of the 435-member Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The legislation would cut off all assistance to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, and place conditions on humanitarian assistance flowing through non-government organizations.
The House bill and similar Senate legislation both contain provisions designed to send a strong message to Hamas that it must formally renounce terrorism, recognize Israel, disarm militant groups, stop anti-Israeli incitement and reform its financial institutions.
The legislation would also declare the Palestinian Authority a terrorist sanctuary, deny visas for Palestinian officials, restrict travel by Palestinian Authority officials based at the United Nations, and cut off funds for diplomatic contacts between U.S. and Palestinian officials.
Debate reflected strong opinions over how Congress and the United States should continue to help the Palestinian people while expressing disapproval of Hamas policies.
"Today, we must send a message to Hamas, and President Abbas, that the free nations of the world reject their desire to be recognized as legitimate leaders of their people," said Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican. "Both Hamas and Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade have a record of terror and their leaders have a demonstrated lack of humanity by allowing these murderous activities."
Opponents argued that the legislation's provisions would reduce U.S. flexibility to guide Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts by limiting the president's decision-making powers.
Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, argues the measure will also strengthen the hand of Palestinian extremists.
"It does little to prioritize on the basis of our strategic interests, and provides no prospect for Palestinian reform coming through the process of negotiations," he noted. "In so doing, it weakens the hands of those who advocate for peace negotiations, and supports those extremists who believe in violence."
However, a Democrat and co-sponsor of the measure, Tom Lantos, says Congress must send an unambiguous message to Hamas.
"It is, therefore, incumbent upon us, as the ally and longtime supporter of the Democratic state of Israel, to do everything we can to demonstrate the bankruptcy of Hamas' vision and to ensure that Hamas receives no help from the United States in implementing its evil plans," said Mr. Lantos.
In contrast to the House version, the Senate bill gives the president authority to disregard the law in the interests of U.S. National Security.
The House measure would allow U.S. aid to the West Bank or Gaza for humanitarian needs, including water, food, medicine and sanitation, and if it is shown to promote national security interests of the United States.
Overwhelming House approval of the bill came as President Bush prepared for talks with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Presidential spokesman Tony Snow reiterated White House opposition to the legislation.
"We did not support that measure precisely because it does tie the president's hand in some of the activities that I was just talking about just now which is providing humanitarian aid. We think it unnecessarily constrains," said Mr. Snow.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack explained the State Department's role in the legislation.
"We are going to be working with both sides both the House as well as the Senate on what the shape of this final bill looks like, what the shape of any potential restrictions on the flow money from the U.S. to the Palestinian areas might be," he said.
Any house legislation would have to be reconciled with the Senate's version, which has yet to be considered at committee level in that chamber. The bill would then have to go to President Bush for his signature before it would become law.