Hamas victory

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(HOST) This morning, commentator Barrie Dunsmore looks at the implications of the victory of the Islamic militant party Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections.

(DUNSMORE) The election of Hamas is a problem. Hamas is a party which has achieved much of its political power by using the mosques to provide health and social services that Palestinians weren’t getting from the corrupt regime of the late Yassir Arafat. Its leaders are mainly religious men who live modestly among, not apart from, the people. But Hamas has also had no qualms about using suicide bombers and other terrorist actions in its war with the Israelis. It is considered a terrorist organization by both the U.S. and the European Union.

President Bush said again during his State of the Union speech that Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce terrorism, indicating this country will have nothing more to do with the Palestinians until this happens. American economic aid is likely to be cut off along with visible diplomatic contact. Well and good. But then what?

The Israeli-Palestinian problem remains a key issue, which drives Islamic militants world wide. The resolution of this problem would go a long way toward reducing the threat of international Islamic terrorism. I’m not saying it would end it – but it would certainly help.

So as the U.S. looks for a way to come to terms with the Hamas victory, there are things to bear in mind. First – there can be no doubt that one of the reasons Palestinians voted for Hamas is their despair over the so called Mid-East peace process. For them, it’s been all process and no peace. Israel has continued to build, expand and consolidate its settlements in the disputed territories and now is building a wall to seal itself off from the Palestinians. That might have been acceptable if the wall, or barrier as the Israelis prefer it be called, did not so often encroach onto the Palestinian side of the 1967 border, isolating Arab farms and villages.

As far as the Palestinians can see, the U.S. has done virtually nothing to force the Israelis to end their settlement policies. The nature and permanence of these settlements are such as to seriously threaten the very concept of a two-state solution to the problem. For this solution to work the Palestinians have to have enough territory to make a state viable – and we are getting close to the tipping point where it may no longer be.

The other important factor to consider is that if the U.S. and Europe cut off most economic aid to the Palestinians Hamas would almost certainlly turn to Iran for help. Iran is already deeply involved in Iraq and Lebanon. And giving this Islamic theocracy an invitation to move into the West Bank could have disastrous consequences, especially considering Iran’s apparent ambitions to have nuclear weapons. These are serious problems that must be dealt with by equally serious diplomacy. And, to paraphrase a line from the President’s State of the Union speech – hand wringing is not a strategy.

This is Barrie Dunsmore.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.

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