- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

LONDON — The United States will deny financial aid to a Hamas government in the Palestinian territories, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday, and she expressed confidence that other countries, including Arab nations, would follow Washington’s example.

“The bedrock principle here is, we can’t have funding for an organization that holds those views just because it is in government,” Miss Rice said as she flew to London, where she is scheduled to meet today with other key international players on the Middle East.

She said the Quartet — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — are “on the same page” when it comes to funding a Hamas government.

“It is important that Hamas will now have to confront the implications of its covenant if it wishes to govern, and so that becomes a primary consideration in everything that we do.

“I have to say there has been a pretty consistent voice in the international community about confronting that covenant, and it’s not just coming from the Western states; it’s also coming from the region,” she said.

Miss Rice will press foreign ministers attending today’s conference on Afghanistan to make sure the international community presents a united front.

Hamas won 76 out of 132 seats in the Palestinian legislature in Wednesday’s election, even though exits polls had given Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction a narrow lead.

The Palestinian Authority cannot function without foreign aid, which makes up about two-thirds of its $1.6 billion annual budget. The European Union donated more than $500 million last year, while the United States gave $70 million.

In addition, the U.S. Agency for International Development spent $225 million on humanitarian projects, including $88 million in refugee assistance, according to State Department figures. Some of those will probably continue, Miss Rice said.

“We do understand that the Palestinian people may have some humanitarian needs, and I think we will have to look at that on a kind of case-by-case basis,” she said.

Asked about the eventuality that Syria and Iran try to make up for lost Western aid, she said: “We would sincerely hope that people would take the implications of a Palestinian government that would be cut off from assistance and not try and fill that gap.”

In an unusual public analysis of a foreign election, Miss Rice said Wednesday’s result showed that the U.S. government did not have “a good enough pulse on the Palestinian population, as opposed to elites in Ramallah,” the Palestinian Authority’s seat in the West Bank.

“I’m concerned about it, and we’ll try to get an analysis of what we might have known better,” she said. “But I want to emphasize, I don’t think we were alone in being surprised.”

The secretary also admitted having underestimated how deeply frustrated Palestinians were by Fatah’s corruption. She praised Mr. Abbas for having started some reforms, but said they had not gone far enough.

However, she rejected suggestions that the election should have been postponed to give Mr. Abbas more time for those reforms to succeed.

“You had a lot of pent-up frustration, a lot of pent-up anger, and I don’t think that was going to dissipate in four or five or six months,” she said. “I just don’t think you can support democracy and then say, ‘Well, we have to do this because of the outcome.’”

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