A reprieve for Palestinians

May 11, 2006

THere isn't enough anesthetic to support surgical needs. Health care workers haven't been paid in two months. Relatives of the sick threaten hospital staff with guns in a desperate bid for care. This isn't a scene from Iraq. It's what's happening at the Palestinian-run hospital in Gaza City, as described recently by The Sun's John Murphy. Conditions at Shifa Hospital and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories have deteriorated to such an extent that the U.S. has been compelled to ease its ban on aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government. This gesture should bring much-needed relief to Palestinians, but it should also underscore for them that a government in isolation can't carry out its responsibilities at home.

The Bush administration resisted this temporary reprieve. But its European allies, Russia and the United Nations pressed Washington - and they were right. The World Bank this week revised its assessment of conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since international donors refused aid to the bankrupt Palestinian Authority. Things have become so bad that it predicted the territories would be ungovernable by year's end. Such chaos might mean the end of the Hamas-led government; it also might lead to a civil war. Neither would set the stage for a resumption of peace talks with Israel.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh must realize that the Hamas ministers' refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence is endangering their people. Palestinians are proud; they won't abandon their elected government outright. But over time, they will be forced to think of their families and their needs. The polls may be in Hamas' favor now, but for how long if the authority's 165,000 workers continue to go unpaid, if Israeli gas supplies remain off limits, if Palestinian hospitals shut down? How long?

Mr. Haniyeh has criticized the conditions of restoring international aid as forcing the PA to "recognize the legality of the occupation." He's wrong; recognizing Israel doesn't legitimize the occupation. But support for terrorism and the destruction of Israel undercuts the PA's legitimate right to vigorously protest the occupation.

As international donors begin dispersing humanitarian aid to Palestinians during this three-month trial period, Mr. Haniyeh and his government must re-examine its unbending ideological stance. The Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said it will give Palestinians until the end of the year to resume settlement talks. A fully functioning Palestinian Authority can best attend to the needs of Palestinians, defend their right to an independent state and negotiate its establishment.

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