Can Hamas and Progress Coexist?

NPR's Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says that as the newly elected Hamas begins to form a government, the prospects for Middle East peace seem bleaker than ever.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke today with members of the quartet of Middle East peace negotiators. According to the State Department, they discussed the financial situation of the Palestinian authority and the new Palestinian leadership.

Tomorrow, the leader of the Islamist group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, will be formally asked to form a government. NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr, has been following developments in the region, and he has these thoughts.

DANIEL SCHORR: To say that the Palestinian situation is on a collision course is an understatement. The situation is on three collision courses. There is first of all a clash between President Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh, the often-jailed Hamas leader whom Abbas will designate to form a government in the next five weeks.

Abbas insists that the prospective government honor all previous agreements with Israel and support new negotiations. Haniyeh says he will talk to Abbas, but not to Israel, unless Israel first gives up the West Bank territory it conquered in the 1967 war.

That leads to the second clash between Hamas, the dominant party in the Palestinian legislative council, and Israel. Israel so far has refused to deal with Hamas, unless the militant party renounces violence and agrees to respect Israel's right to exist. And Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has put the squeeze on the Palestinians by halting the transfer of about $50 million dollars a month in taxes and customs fees that Israel collects for the Palestinian authority. The Authority is threatened with being unable to pay its 140,000 employees at the end of February.

The third clash, still in the making, is between Prime Minister designate Haniyeh and the international community, represented by the so-called quartet of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations. The quartet members bankroll the Palestinians to the tune of a billion dollars a year. In general, the quartet supports the demand that Hamas renounce suicide bombings and other forms of violence, that it agree to abide by the so-called Oslo Agreements, and that it recognize Israel.

Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice is traveling to the Middle East rallying support against Hamas. At some point, the Bush Administration is likely to propose freezing the funds now provided to the Palestinians. Haniya says the Palestinian authority would then seek financial support from Islamic countries, starting with Iran.

It is possible that the Haniyeh government will be born amid a financial crisis, unless something gives in the three-sided confrontation now developing.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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