Demands, But No Deadlines for Hamas

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The dilemma facing the Western funders of the Palestinian Authority following the Hamas election victory was visible in the position adopted by the U.S. and its “Quartet” allies Monday night. After talks in London between Secretary of State Condi Rice and officials from the EU, UN and Russia, a statement warned that from the donors' perspective, "all members of the future Palestinian government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap." Future aid would be reviewed against those criteria, warned UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, speaking for the Quartet. But the statement made no immediate threat to cut existing funding despite the fact that the Palestinian electorate has voted into power a party listed by the U.S. and EU as a terrorist organization.

The U.S. currently provides an estimated $234 million annually to the PA budget, while the Europeans provide more than double that amount. But U.S. antiterrorism laws would require an immediate review of the U.S. contribution should Hamas take charge. Still, it may be as long as three months before the new government takes office, and funding will continue in the interim. Earlier in the day, at a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels, the Europeans insisted they won't fund a Palestinian government whose leaders have not renounced violence and recognized Israel. But they did appear inclined to give Hamas time to change its behavior under threat of losing the funding that keeps the Palestinian Authority functioning.

The European foreign ministers urged Hamas "to renounce violence, to recognize Israel's right to exist, and to disarm," saying that if it made that shift, the EU "stands ready to continue to support Palestinian economic development and democratic state building." But even if it lives by them in practice as it embraces the realities of government, Hamas is unlikely to publicly adopt such principles any time soon. Indeed, in response to the Quartet statement, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri rejected the call to disavow violence and recognize Israel, saying "the Quartet should have demanded an end to occupation and aggression... not demanded that the victim should recognize the occupation and stand handcuffed in the face of the aggression." Still, other Hamas spokesmen have sent more conciliatory signals as the movement struggles to adjust to the implications of an election win that even it had not anticipated.

"Clearly Hamas needs some time, and we're going to give them time—but not to do nothing," says an aide to Solana. "They have to confirm they're in touch with reality, namely that the Palestinians are totally dependent on financial support from outside, and that that aid in turn is linked to the peace process."

Although Brussels is insisting that a Palestinian government be guided by the principles of non-violence and a recognition of Israel, some European officials see allowing for some wiggle room as the prudent course. "We gain nothing at this point from making this a matter of black and white," says one European diplomat. "Of course Hamas is a terrorist organization, but cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority would play straight into the hands of the extremists among them." The diplomat suggested that there were possibly important differences, for instance, between the EU's relationship with full members of Hamas as opposed to those independent candidates who profited from Hamas's support. "We have technical contact with several Hamas mayors, and we can imagine maintaining that more easily than political contact with Hamas leadership. But those are questions for the future: For now, the ball is in their court."