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Senators change P.A. letter

A proposed letter from U.S. senators urging Condoleezza Rice to maintain the isolation of the Palestinian Authority was changed to exempt Mahmoud Abbas from the ban. The letter from Sens. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) originally urged the U.S. secretary of state to continue the policy of “no direct aid and no contacts with any members of a Palestinian Authority that does not explicitly and unequivocally recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce terror, and accept previous agreements.” A number of dovish pro-Israel groups, led by Americans for Peace Now, told senators that the language would extend the ban to Abbas, the relatively moderate P.A. president. On Friday, Nelson circulated the redrafted letter, urging Rice “to maintain current U.S. policy with respect to the Palestinian government until it recognizes Israel’s right to exist, renounces terror, and accepts previous agreements.” Nelson’s office told senators that the letter was ” NEVER meant to call for a cut-off of funds to the office of President Abbas.” The American Israel Public Affairs Committee also backed the change in the letter. The Senate letter so far has 28 signatories from both parties; a similar letter circulating in the U.S. House of Representatives garnered 93 signatures in two days. AIPAC strongly backs the letters, while APN says it has “concerns” about them because it favors contacts with P.A. Cabinet ministers from Abbas’ Fatah Party, which is less extreme than Hamas.