Obama Wants Law Change on Hamas
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The Obama administration has asked Congress to make changes to US law to allow federal aid to flow to the Palestinians government, if Hamas is included. (Reuters)
CAIRO — US President Barack Obama's administration is seeking to change US law to allow aid to any future Palestinian unity government that might include Hamas.
"That's gutsy," Nathan Brown, a specialist in Palestinian politics at George Washington University, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday, April 27.
The administration has asked Congress to make changes to US law to allow federal aid to flow to the Palestinians government, if Hamas is included.
The request came as part of an $83.4-billion emergency spending bill to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The bill would also provide $840 million for the Palestinian Authority and for rebuilding Gaza following the deadly 22-day Israeli onslaught in December.
But the Obama administration is not sure how to deliver the aid to the devastated strip because of the restrictions on dealing with Hamas.
"President Obama has repeatedly called for a separate Palestinian state," commented the Times.
"But negotiating a peace agreement, or even distributing aid, will be difficult without dealing with Hamas, which won Palestinian elections in 2006."
The US insists that Hamas must recognize Israel, renounce "violence" and uphold previous agreements with Israel to receive aid.
Under US law, the Palestinian government must meet three conditions to receive aid.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has defended the Obama administration's position, saying the US should try to gradually change Hamas's attitude.
"We don't want to . . . bind our hands in the event that such an agreement is reached, and the government that they are part of agrees to our principles," she told the Congress last week.
Rival Hamas and Fatah headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in Egypt Monday to discus the formation of a unity government.
The two groups have been bitterly divided ever since Hamas seized control of Gaza in a week of deadly factional fighting in June 2007.
Analysts believe that the Obama administration's move is a reasonable approach in dealing with the Palestinians.
"This is saying, 'I'm reasonable," Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, a Washington group that advocates Palestinian statehood, said.
"I'm trying to make a start. Don't say I haven't tried.' "
The move marks a shift from the approach taken by the former administration of George W. Bush in dealing with the Palestinian unity government.
The Bush administration has shunned the governments formed by Hamas since it came to power after sweeping the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006.
It only communicated with Fatah-linked ministers in the Hamas-led national unity government, which was later dismissed by Abbas.
Bush's America spearheaded an international campaign to isolate Hamas, rejected any contacts with the group and backed a crippling Israeli siege on Gaza.
Late in January, Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair criticized the West's isolation of Hamas, calling for its inclusion in the peace process.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also urged the West to respect the democratic Palestinian elections that brought Hamas to power.