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Advisers to Palestinians Request Flexibility in Dealing with Hamas

15 March 2006

Quartet envoy Wolfensohn cites humanitarian needs of Palestinians

By Phillip Kurata
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The international community's top civilian and military advisers working with the Palestinians have urged the U.S. Congress to allow them flexibility in dealing with the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

James Wolfensohn, the Quartet special envoy for disengagement from Gaza, said that he "unequivocally" supports the Quartet's position that Hamas must commit to nonviolence, recognize Israel and accept previous agreements and obligations of the Palestinian Authority [PA], including the road map, an internationally endorsed plan to create a Palestinian state that lives in peace and security alongside Israel.  The Quartet consists of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia when dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a PA government that does not accept its existence and openly calls for its destruction," Wolfensohn said, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee March 15.

Committee Chairman Richard Lugar scheduled the hearing to consider U.S. options in dealing with a Hamas-led Palestinian government after Hamas' victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in January.  The U.S. government considers Hamas a terrorist organization and refuses to deal with it until it renounces violence and accepts Israel's right to exist.

"Should our policy be to isolate, engage, or contain Hamas?  Should we find a way to continue humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people?" Lugar asked at the beginning of the hearing.  He said the Palestinian people are dependent on outside sources for food, fuel and other basic necessities.  Reduced aid from Western countries, Lugar said, further could radicalize the Palestinian people and expand the influence of Iran and Syria.

"Iran has already offered assistance to Hamas and has in the past armed and supported Hamas and other terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  With its oil revenues bolstered by $60 a barrel prices, Iran might be willing to expend substantial resources to solidify ties with Hamas and portray itself as a patron of the Palestinian people," Lugar added.

Wolfensohn said the international community needs to devise alternative methods to deliver assistance to the Palestinian people that circumvent Hamas.

He urged the U.S. Congress to draft legislation that demands Hamas respect the principles of nonviolence and Israel's right to exist.  But he cautioned that the proposed legislation must allow for tactical flexibility to deal with the humanitarian problems of the Palestinian people.

"If you have a million kids on the street ... with no schools to go to, if there are no health facilities and if the basic framework of the Palestinian Territories breaks down, it's hard to imagine that you're going to have peace," Wolfensohn said.  He said forcing a closure of schools by cutting off humanitarian assistance is a formula for "chaos in the streets."

He said that avoiding an abrupt cut-off of assistance to the Palestinian people would be a way to show support for Palestinian moderates.

"[W]e have to give them something to work with.  If we're perceived to be cutting things off instantly, then I think we're in some trouble," he said.

The U.S. security coordinator assigned to help reform the Palestinian security agencies, Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, also urged Congress to proceed cautiously in dealing with a Hamas-led government.

"The U.S. security coordinator and team, by its presence and engagement, demonstrates a U.S. commitment to a two-state solution that is real and tangible," Dayton said.

"I encourage us all to be very cautious before we conclude that the effort is not worth it," he added.

The general said that while he "absolutely" opposes dealing with Hamas, he urged Congress to allow him the leeway to pursue "creative options" to deal with "the portion of Palestinian society which is not Hamas and which is opposed to Hamas."

Dayton and Wolfensohn said they have seen no evidence that Iran is involved in directly providing aid to Hamas.

For additional information on U.S. policy in the region, see Middle East and North Africa.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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