International donors giving incoming Hamas brief window to change their ways

International donors to cash-strapped Palestinians have given incoming Hamas leaders a brief window to change their ways or face a devastating loss of cash. The so-called Quartet of would-be Mideast peacemakers, meeting in London on Monday night, stopped short of issuing an outright threat to Hamas, but said it was inevitable that future aid to a new Palestinian government led by the militant Islamic group "would be reviewed by donors against that government's commitment to renounce violence, recognition of Israel."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said aid would not stop immediately following Hamas' decisive victory in Palestinian legislative elections. U.S. and European officials said it will probably take two to three months for a new Hamas government to form and take office, effectively giving Hamas a brief grace period to accede to international demands.

"There is no other time considered," European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, addressing the same news conference, echoed Annan, saying, "It is incumbent now for all to insist that any future Palestinian government will live up to these obligations."

They spoke after a hastily called strategy session of the Quartet, the United Nations, United States, Russia and the European Union, that has hoped to shepherd Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. The group includes the major donors to the Palestinians. In Lebanon, however, a senior Hamas official in Lebanon said an aid cut would have no impact on Hamas policy.

"If the European Union countries and the American administration see this as a means that could lead to a change in Hamas' strategic position, then they are dreaming and are mistaken," Mohammed Nazzal, member of Hamas' decision-making political bureau, told Al-Arabiya satellite television. "Hamas will never accept that."

Hamas' surprise victory set up the Islamic militant group to run the next government in the Palestinian territories bordering Israel. But the wary international reaction to its victory raised questions about how the Palestinian Authority would finance its annual operations. The Palestinian Authority is effectively broke, with a deficit this month in the tens of millions of dollars. In 2005, overseas donors contributed about $1 billion of the authority's budget. The total budget is estimated variously at between $1.6 billion and $1.9 billion, with huge shortfalls every year.

U.S. direct aid is a small part of that, $70 million last year, but the United States and other donors also contribute large amounts of aid indirectly for humanitarian and development needs. U.S. officials from President Bush on down have said there will be no direct aid for a government that includes Hamas, and that other humanitarian assistance will come only on a case-by-case basis, reports the AP. I.L.

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