Do something

September 22, 2006

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is promoting a national unity government that could ease the isolation of the Palestinian people, but he can't get his Hamas rivals to commit. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh won't soften his anti-Israel stand, which means a U.S.-led blockade of financial aid to the Palestinians will remain firm. President Bush says he's committed to an independent Palestine, but he hasn't offered any new initiatives to bring it about.

The Palestinian people are paying the price for this continued inertia, as the territories grow more lawless and destitute. If things continue as they are, with Palestinians unpaid and out of work, the World Bank predicts poverty will hit 67 percent of the population by year's end.

Mr. Abbas' proposal for a unity government holds out the most hope for a change that could ease the humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It would give Mr. Haniyeh and other elected officials from Hamas the chance to govern jointly with Mr. Abbas' Fatah faction - and provide a potentially face-saving way for them to recognize Israel. Mr. Bush made it very clear in his U.N. speech this week that the freeze on millions in desperately needed international aid would remain until Hamas officials renounce violence and recognize Israel.

It's time for Hamas officials to stop putting ideology over the welfare of the Palestinian people. Their fealty won't feed families. Mr. Haniyeh and his cohorts must be pragmatic. To govern effectively and efficiently, as Palestinians had expected, the government needs international aid, and to get it, the Hamas leaders must find the words to renounce violence and acknowledge Israel's presence. Yasser Arafat was often accused of failing the Palestinian people because he couldn't make the transition from revolutionary to elected leader. The same is likely to be said of the Hamas-led government.

If an accommodation can be made, Mr. Abbas needs to rein in Fatah militants who are clashing with Hamas militants. Public safety also is an issue for Palestinians.

Hamas and Mr. Abbas must also get people back to work, repay those who have gone without salaries and restore order. Then, Washington should be prepared to facilitate Mr. Abbas' efforts to reopen a dialogue with the Israelis. The Israeli soldier who was kidnapped this summer by militants should be returned to his family and the southern border secured against rocket-firing militants. Israel should release the millions in taxes owed the Palestinian Authority to speed the process along.

That's a lot to expect. But to expect any less would prolong the impoverished state of the Palestinian people and the political instability of the region.

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