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Hamas Tests International Waters

Prepared by: CFR.org Staff
February 10, 2006

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited members of Hamas, newly elected to lead the Palestinian Authority (PA) to visit Russia (BBC), saying the world must respect the results of the elections that brought the Islamic group to power. France supported the Russian offer (Haaretz), a setback to Israeli efforts to isolate the group politically. 

Meanwhile, maneuvering continues among Palestinian leaders, as well as between Hamas and Israel. Hamas leader Khalid Meshal said the group would be willing to negotiate with Israel, but only if the Jewish state accepts a series of conditions, including withdrawing to its 1967 borders (BBC). Meanwhile, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would give up some settlements in the West Bank, but keep the three largest in an effort to unilaterally set Israel’s borders (NY Times). The conditions set by both sides make it seem unlikely that progress on peace talks will be seen any time soon.

Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer tells cfr.org’s Bernard Gwertzman the United States and EU should be “flexible” enough to maintain relations with a Hamas government led by a non-Hamas politician. While Abbas and Fatah have so far declined to join a Hamas government, Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki tells Gwertzman Fatah could still agree to join. Kadura Fares, a Fatah leader, warns in a cfr.org interview that Hamas will have only a short time to prove its ability to govern.

Hamas leaders, facing a range of challenges after their surprise victory, must deal with some harsh economic realities. The PA is dependent upon foreign aid, and is facing the loss of much of it if Hamas does not recognize Israel, cease terrorism, and disarm. Much of this aid comes from Washington: $150 million was earmarked for this year. Together with the threatened loss of EU aid— $335 million in 2005—Hamas is in a bind. Even with former World Bank president James Wolfensohn touring the Persian Gulf to raise funds for the Palestinian economy (JPost), Hamas is now dealing with the demands of shifting from opposition group to ruling party overnight.

Former U.S. Mideast envoy Dennis Ross argues in the Washington Post that Hamas should get "nothing for free," but Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment warns cutting off all funding could have dire consequences (Foreign Policy). Writing in the forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs, Israeli Brigadier General Michael Herzog expresses doubt about whether Hamas can "be tamed."

A CFR Background Q&A explains the implications of the Hamas victory, while another Background Q&A profiles the Hamas leadership. Dennis Ross and Mideast scholar Aaron David Miller discuss what the year ahead holds for Israeli-Palestinian relations in this transcript.

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