Embracing Palestinians but not Hamas

Try as they might not to talk of a peace deal, Israel and the Hamas government of the Palestinians can't ignore a world desire for them to find peace. With an apology to Shakespeare, some achieve peace and others have peace thrust upon them.

A small breakthrough occurred Tuesday that might help melt the cold-shouldered standoff between two elected governments that now don't even want each other to exist. They were advised by the US, Europe, Russia, and the UN that, despite a near-global financial boycott of the Hamas government, millions in aid money will soon flow directly to the Palestinian people to prevent a total breakdown of their society.

The real message: As much as Israel and Hamas believe they can ignore each other, the plight of the Palestinians - caused in part by each government's intransigence toward talking - should not and will not be ignored by the rest of the world.

Peace won't be achieved by the two sides' current strategy of unilateral and aggressive means, such as Israel's construction of a wall and Hamas's April 19 defense of suicide attacks on civilians.

The international community's attempt to deliver up to $100 million a month in aid will not be easy. Hamas and Israel have a stake in how such money may hinder or help each one's goal of undercutting the other.

The donors, too, cannot see aid go to bolster Hamas until it recognizes Israel and renounces terrorism, nor do they want to see the money lost to corruption, as happened under the oil-for-food program during the boycott of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Yet the need for such aid has become acute, especially since Hamas came to office in March and the West cut off aid (and Israel withheld tax revenue owed to the Palestinians). The World Bank reported this week that the West Bank and Gaza may soon become ungovernable as essential government services such as healthcare collapse for lack of money. One-fourth of Palestinians survive on public-sector salaries.

The images of desperation among Palestinians were something the Bush administration could not ignore, as it yielded to a European request to give humanitarian aid. Letting the Palestinian territories fall apart might only kill off the young democracy and allow Hamas to stay in power.

In supporting a temporary flow of aid, President Bush partially backs away from Israel's siege mentality, and may help reemphasize the long-held US stance that Israel cannot unilaterally define its borders in the West Bank and ignore Palestinian concerns about a viable state.

The aid also sends signals to Palestinians that the US will ultimately support them but not an anti-Israel Hamas, and that they should do likewise.

Neither Hamas nor the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert can ensure stability and prosperity for their respective peoples without coming to terms with each other. At some point, the use of force or the threat of it in claiming land must give way to the deep aspirations for peace among both Palestinians and Israelis.

The new flow of aid will touch those aspirations, and perhaps touch the hearts of each side's leaders.

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