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To Engage Hamas ... or Not?

Author: Esther Pan
January 30, 2006

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With Hamas now in charge of creating the next Palestinian government, world leaders are grappling with whether they’ll engage a Palestinian Authority beholden to what is considered a terrorist group by many nations. The United States vows to withhold its annual aid to the Palestinians until Hamas renounces violence (LATimes) and concedes Israel’s right to exist. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is pressing other members of the Quartet to do the same at an international meeting in London.

Hamas is urging Brussels not to cut off more than $600 million per year in EU aid (al-Jazeera), vowing that all funds in the Palestinian treasury will go to benefit the Palestinian people and not to fund attacks on Israel. If international funds are withheld, some Hamas officials say they will look to their Muslim neighbors instead, raising fears that Syria and Iran could raise their influence in the region.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, which offers a sneak peek of its next edition here, Israeli General Michael Herzog sees little likelihood of Hamas changing its stripes. But CFR Fellow Henry Siegman, speaking to cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman, says the unexpected position Hamas finds itself in may force it to abandon its radical ways. CFR Fellow Rachel Bronson tells Gwertzman, "It will become increasingly important to judge Hamas by its actions."

The regional and international implications of the elections are explained in this CFR Background Q&A by cfr.org's Esther Pan. The Hamas victory may push the Israeli electorate to the right, giving the Likud party and its leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, a boost ahead of upcoming Israeli elections in March (CSMonitor).

Hamas has called for an extended truce with Israel but Israel ruled out talks with Hamas (BBC) for the time being and announced it will freeze aid to the Palestinian Authority until it can be sure the money will not fund terror attacks (al-Jazeera). Tom Segev writes in Haaretz that this is a mistake, saying Israel should engage the Hamas government.

And what about Fatah, the secular movement displaced by Hamas? Senior Fatah advisor Kadura Fares tells cfr.org in this interview Hamas has "no experience dealing with the daily life needs of the Palestinian people." He says Fatah will rebuild and wait for Hamas to fail.

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