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Boycott of Palestinian government yields little

Published October 15, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - The international boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian government has yielded no results, and as poverty soars and civil war looms, time and options are running out for Israel, the Palestinians and the international community.

The radical Islamic group that took power in March is no closer to moderating itself and no closer to falling.

"All the crises that we have been through in the past seven months proved even to the Americans that there is no way that this government is going to fall by economic pressure," said Palestinian Cabinet minister Abdel Rahman Zeidan.

It is now clear Hamas will not accept the No. 1 condition for doing business with it: recognizing Israel's right to exist. And the international community is not about to accept Hamas' proposed solution: to call a long-term truce, but without abandoning its goal of eliminating Israel.

It has also become clear that the person calling the shots in Hamas is not Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh or anyone else in the West Bank or Gaza. It's the exiled Khaled Mashaal, the hard-line ideologue sheltered by Syria, funded by Iran and in control of the money flow to Hamas.

Moderate Arab countries including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and recently Qatar have been trying to defuse the crisis in the Palestinian territories, offering various proposals that would allow Hamas to meet conditions while saving face.

Mashaal has rebuffed each of those initiatives, according to senior officials of President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party. That leaves him squarely in the camp of Syria and Iran, the two countries that sponsored Hezbollah in its 34-day war with Israel this summer.

Jacob Walles, the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, acknowledged last week that the pressure on Hamas has not worked and said Palestinians need a new government.

"We've been looking for the last six months to see if there was any sign of a change. We don't see any sign," he told Palestinian reporters.

The international community's latest strategy involves an $816-million donation from Europe and a push to let Gaza export this season's harvest.

Israel would be happy to not rule over the Palestinians, said Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "But that doesn't mean that the solution itself right now is to negotiate with somebody who upfront says 'We're not going to recognize you.' It just doesn't work that way."

[Last modified October 15, 2006, 01:58:18]

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