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Hamas Presents Policy Challenge for West

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Hamas Presents Policy Challenge for West

Middle East

Hamas Presents Policy Challenge for West

Hamas Presents Policy Challenge for West

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Western nations are weighing their options about how to balance political and financial support for Palestinians as they shape a new government under the Islamist militant group Hamas. The United States has called on Hamas to renounce its violent stance against Israel.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

In the wake of last month's Palestinian elections, the Bush Administration faces a dilemma. How can the United States and its allies use their financial leverage to put pressure on Hamas, which won the election, without punishing Palestinians for the choice they made at the polls?

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

The Bush Administration has a fairly clear policy for the time being. Support the caretaker Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas, and build up international pressure on Hamas to meet certain conditions.

The U.S., the United Nations, Russia, and the European Union warned Hamas that the Palestinian authority could lose international aid unless Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel

Robert Malley, of the International Crisis Group, says the real trouble lies ahead.

Mr. ROBERT MALLEY (Director, International Crisis Group): Where we're going to face a bigger problem is what position we take vis-à-vis the E.U. and Arab countries when Hamas forms a government or when there's a government that's formed that's approved by Hamas, what are the requirements we then want other people to put on continuing assistance? Is it renunciation of violence and recognition of Israel by Hamas? Or is it requirements on the government that will have been formed?

KELEMEN: Hamas as its entity is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, so Washington can't have any dealings with it. But State Department officials say they will have to wait and see exactly who is in a new government to determine what sort of contacts the U.S. can have in the future.

As American officials try to consider all the possible scenarios and legal intricacies, Israel's new foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, came to Washington with a warning. She said her government won't deal with a Hamas government that doesn't renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Minister TZIPI LIVNI (Israeli Foreign Minister): If this doesn't happen and the Hamas is going to be the next Palestinian government, the answer is simple. This authority, this state, is going to transfer into a terror state.

KELEMEN: The Israeli's have another concern. What if Hamas, the organization, doesn't renounce terrorism, but Hamas-backed independents in the new Palestinian government do?

Israel's Ambassador to Washington, Daniel Ayalon, said that too is undesirable.

Ambassador DANIEL AYALON (Israeli Ambassador to the United States): An ugly, I would say, face of terror, masked with technocrats and others which are trying to appeal to the international community as if things are not look as bad as they are.

KELEMEN: Ayalon was speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in a lively yet diplomatic debate with his Palestinian counterpart, Afif Safieh.

Ambassador AFIF SAFIEH (Palestinian Ambassador to the United States): I do not belong to Hamas. I have no ideological affinity with Hamas. Yet I am not in favor of the demonization of Hamas, and I'm unhappy that the mood around the world today is that Islamaphobia is the only permissible racism today and a level of tolerance for Islamaphobia has become too much the l'air du temes.

KELEMEN: Or the fashion of the day.

The Palestinian envoy, who peppers his speech with French phrases, is predicting Hamas will be constructive. He complained about efforts by some members of Congress to punish Palestinians by an aid cutoff.

The Bush Administration has only said it is reviewing all funding for the Palestinians, little of which has gone directly to the Palestinian authority. Robert Malley, of the International Crisis Group, said Washington can only wait and see what sort of government Hamas forms.

Mr. MALLEY: I think the right attitude to take now is not to rush, not to box ourselves in, and let's wait to see. Other people are putting pressure on Hamas, and as I said, Hamas is putting pressure on itself.

KELEMEN: There are some signs that the international pressure on Hamas is already beginning to fray. State Department officials said they were surprised when Russia offered to hold talks with Hamas.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to call her Russian counterpart to urge him to use any such meeting to remind Hamas it has tough decisions to make.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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