Hammering Hamas

April 17, 2006

The West's isolation of the Hamas-led Palestinian government better have an end game. Decisions by the U.S. and the European Union to cancel or redirect millions in aid to strictly humanitarian causes are expected to leave the near-destitute Palestinian Authority with even less means to govern. The West wants the Islamists in charge to renounce their anti-Israel platform and support of terrorism. A negotiated settlement of this decades-long conflict must begin with a recognition of Israel's right to exist. But international pressure - financial or otherwise - so far hasn't led Hamas-affiliated leaders to change their core principles.

The new Palestinian government isn't going to renounce its anti-Israeli views because America and others tell it to. If policymakers in Washington truly want a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they will have to find a way for Hamas leaders to moderate their views in a dignified way. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. The Hamas members elected this year are governing for the first time. The Islamist group has been fighting the Israeli occupation with deadly force and suicide bombers for a decade now. Its transition to a governing authority that plays by international rules won't come easily, if at all. It promised Palestinians a better life; its efforts to deliver that may be complicated by the U.S. and EU aid moves.

Palestinians should have a say in their future borders with Israel. Their government has to find a way to join that conversation because the new Israeli government is prepared and willing to set the borders on its own. The Bush administration needs to weigh the consequences of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from West Bank territory on Palestinian life and the politics of the region - and then reconsider the blanket cutoff of aid.

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