Weighing the Rise of Hamas

A violent uproar persists over Danish cartoons mocking Muhammad. But political developments among the Palestinians may be potentially more troublesome for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

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DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Overshadowed by the international uproar ignited by the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, the Palestinian-Israeli struggle remains the oldest established permanent conflict in the world.

HANSEN: NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: That conflict is about to enter a new and unpredictable stage on Thursday when the Parliament, dominated by the militant Hamas, starts work on creating a government. The situation poses in its most painful terms the question of what do you do when you hold a completely democratic election and the bad guys win? Israel will not recognize a Hamas-led government that does not renounce violence and recognize the existence of the state of Israel. And the Bush Administration generally supports the Israeli position. Hamas says it has no intention of yielding and the most it has so far been willing to offer is an armed truce, and then only on condition that Israel yield the West Bank territory it occupied in the 1967 war. Israel says it hasn't the slightest intention of doing so.

Immediately at stake is the funding on which the Palestinian Authority is totally dependent, a billion dollars from the United States and Europe, plus $50 million a month in taxes and customs that Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority. It is hard to see how the deadlock can be broken. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jerusalem last week said, We will await the outcome of the government formation and that will tell the tale of what is possible.

There is, theoretically, room for compromise, but compromises are only possible between parties looking for compromise, and it is not clear whether either party is in a compromising mood. What is hard to imagine is what happens if Hamas and Israel find no common ground and financial aid to the Palestinian Authority is cut off. That way lies chaos or something close to it. This is Daniel Schorr.

HANSEN: We just want to remind you, because of intense interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, NPR makes free transcripts and streaming audio of its coverage available online. Just go to our Web site, npr.org, and click on the Mid-East Transcripts link.

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