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West Takes Firm Stand on Hamas Aid

Any government formed by the radical group must renounce violence or lose out on $1 billion, U.S. and others say.

January 31, 2006|John Daniszewski and Laura King | Times Staff Writers

LONDON — A U.S.-forged consensus emerged Monday that any government formed by the radical Hamas movement will have to renounce violence and recognize Israel to continue receiving the $1 billion in annual donations Western nations now make to the Palestinian administration.

However, the European Union, United Nations, United States and Russia agreed that aid to the caretaker Palestinian government under President Mahmoud Abbas could continue until a new Hamas-led administration took over.

The gesture from the four participants in Middle East negotiations was seen as a bid to prevent an immediate collapse of the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority after the Islamist Hamas won a decisive legislative victory last week over the incumbent secular Fatah movement.

Hamas, which advocates the destruction of Israel, remains on U.S. and EU lists of terrorist organizations.

Israel had long criticized leadership under Fatah, particularly when it was run by the late Yasser Arafat. But unlike Hamas, Fatah recognized Israel and was committed to a settlement resulting in two states living side by side.

Middle East analysts remained at a loss as to what would happen if Hamas refused to change its basic charter.

"There is a fundamental choice that Western governments need to make: Is Hamas reformable, and can you use this election to both deepen Palestinian democracy and moderate Hamas' views? Or are we probably at the beginning of the collapse of the Palestinian Authority?" said Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

Holding back funds, Alterman added, could drive a Hamas-led government toward Iran or Syria.

In London, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said it was "inevitable" that donations to the Palestinian Authority would be judged against the future government's "continued commitment to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel and the acceptance of previous agreements and obligations including the 'road map,' " a U.S.-backed peace plan.

The official agreement that emerged from London said the so-called quartet of parties involved in Middle East negotiations was willing to continue supporting Palestinians' quest for statehood, freedom and economic development. It said a Hamas-led administration would be welcomed as a full partner if it accepted the premises of the peace process, including the recognition of Israel.

In Washington, President Bush had already endorsed that stance. He said that Hamas' electoral platform -- rooting out corruption and improving services -- was "positive."

"But what isn't positive is that they've got parts of their platform that will make it impossible for them to be a peaceful partner," Bush said Monday.

U.S. and European leaders made it plain that they were hoping that the pressure of responsibility would force Hamas to moderate its stances.

"The conditions are clear," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. "Once these conditions are fulfilled, the European Union will stand ready to continue to support Palestinian economic development and democratic state-building, but it has to be complied with the moment they will be in government."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hinted that Hamas politicians might be forced to compromise as those of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization did.

"There are obligations and responsibilities that come with governing, and it is not the first time that elected representatives have had to deal with those obligations," Rice said.

"Those who have been elected by the Palestinian people have an obligation ... to speak to the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a better life," she added.

Rice had traveled to Europe with the aim of building agreement with allies on two areas of international concern -- Iran's nuclear ambitions and the Palestinians -- as well as to attend an international donors conference on Afghanistan.

She said the core of the U.S. position was that "a Palestinian government must be committed to peace with Israel.... Quite clearly, to be committed to peace with Israel you have to recognize Israel's right to exist, and you have to renounce violence and terrorism."

As Rice spoke in London, a senior Hamas official in Gaza City made the group's most direct appeal yet for donors to refrain from cutting aid, saying it would serve no purpose.

Ismail Haniya, who ran at the top of the Hamas slate, offered to meet with the quartet for an open dialogue. He said all outside money would be spent directly on helping the Palestinian people and keeping the government running, and offered oversight power to donors. He suggested that withholding aid would only heighten tensions.

Aid to the Palestinian Authority last year amounted to nearly $1 billion, about $400 million of that from the U.S. Even so, the Abbas administration is in effect bankrupt.

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