U.S. Weighs Aid to Abbas, Fatah

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The Hamas victory in Gaza upends President Bush's Middle East "road map," including a path toward a Palestinian state. While U.S. aid to Palestinian President Abbas and his government is likely to resume, many fear it's too late to help.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

The U.S.'s position on the Palestinian infighting is to try to shore up President Abbas and his new Fatah government in the West Bank. The American consul general in Jerusalem indicated Washington will lift its economic embargo against the Palestinian government within days.

But as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, critics say this support is too little too late.

MICHELE KELEMEN: It was five years ago this month that President Bush laid out his vision of a Palestinian state. Hamas' victory in Gaza was a clear blow to this idea and to U.S. diplomacy, according to Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group.

Mr. ROBERT MALLEY (Senior Fellow, International Crisis Group): It certainly shows that what the president has set out to do five years ago in his speech on June 24th is nowhere near realization. It's also clear that the strategy that was put in place after Hamas' election, which was designed to weaken Hamas and shorten its time in power. That has been a fantastic failure.

KELEMEN: The U.S. and its quartet partners - the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - have kept up an international aid boycott of the Palestinian government as long as Hamas refused to renounce violence and recognize Israel. The boycott continued even after Palestinian authority president Mahmoud Abbas formed a unity government with Hamas.

Now after losing control of Gaza, Abbas is forming a new government at his headquarters in the West Bank. And he appointed Salam Fayyad as prime minister. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the U.S. and its partners are looking for ways to support them.

Mr. SEAN McCORMACK (Spokesman, U.S. Department of State): We now have a new Palestinian prime minister that has been appointed by President Abbas. He's been charged with forming a government. This is a person that the international community has long experienced with, has great confidence in. He has sterling reputation among members of the international community.

KELEMEN: European diplomats are sounding eager to find ways to help the Abbas government more directly though officials say they are waiting to see what sort of government is formed. Yesterday officials were not making any promises about when direct aid could resume. E.U. foreign ministers are meeting on Monday.

One thing's clear, the embargo on Hamas will continue. Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group is deeply skeptical about the international strategy that seems to be emerging.

Mr. MALLEY: It's a little late. It's the things that they should have done at least a year ago in order - if what they wanted to do was help him. It's also only half the story. You can't just focus on the West Bank. You have to decide what you're going to do about Gaza. If it looks like Abbas is getting all these assistance to help in the West Bank while Gaza is starving, his legitimacy and his credibility is just going to take another blow.

KELEMEN: Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, will be here in Washington for talks Monday and Tuesday likely to be dominated by the repercussions of Hamas' takeover of Gaza. There will also be some talk about ways to boost Abbas by releasing Palestinian tax revenue that the Israelis have been holding.

Secretary of State Rice is expected to go to the region later this month. Malley says the administration is going to have to realize soon that it can't leave Gaza out of the equation, even if Olmert and Abbas are talking.

Mr. MALLEY: You can't have an agreement between Israel and the West Bank. It's been Israel and Palestine or it's nothing at all.

KELEMEN: Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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