Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Despite assurances to the Bush administration and U.S. congressional leaders that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas would not seek reconciliation with Hamas, a series of reports over the past week indicated that he may be doing so.
Abbas has maintained a firm public line severely critical of Hamas' armed conquest of the Gaza Strip in June, but several Arab newspapers last week reported that representatives from Hamas and Abbas' Fatah faction were holding talks at locations throughout the Middle East with the aim of bridging their differences.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post prior to arriving in Israel last weekend, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) warned Abbas that "dealing with Hamas and being in any coalition with Hamas would be something which we would look on with opposition and suspicion."
A day later, the Israeli media was abuzz with reports that the Fatah-led government in Ramallah had transferred some $100 million to the Hamas government in Gaza to pay the salaries of local Hamas paramilitary forces. The funds had been provided to the Fatah government only weeks earlier by the U.S. and Israel.
Palestinian officials blamed the transfer on a computer error, and responded to the flood of bad press by canceling deposits that had not already been withdrawn by Hamas officials and fighters.
But the explanation out of Ramallah did not impress U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives.
In a stern letter obtained by the Post, Cantor demanded that Abbas-appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad provide a good explanation for the money transfer, which took place just one day after Fayad had assured a congressional delegation led by Cantor that his government would shun future cooperation with Hamas.
"Without further explanation from you, I will feel compelled, upon returning to Washington, to forewarn my colleagues in the Congress that any visits with your government offer little value toward bringing peace and security to Palestinians and Israelis," wrote Cantor.
On Monday, The Express-Times of New Jersey reported that Cantor has decided to propose an official cessation of U.S. financial aid to the Palestinian Authority after Fayad failed to reply to his letter.
In an email interview with Cybercast News Service, Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies based in Washington, D.C., said he is not sure if Abbas' Fatah deserves U.S. taxpayers' dollars, with or without Hamas.
"Fatah contains many radical and terrorist factions and elements. Fatah is, at this point, not nearly as moderate as its image, not nearly as moderate as we all wish it were," wrote May.
However, in the absence of a more acceptable alternative, May believes there is little choice but to continue engaging Fatah, while encouraging the movement founded by the late Yasser Arafat toward greater "moderation."
The driving force behind the Arab world's efforts to bring Fatah and Hamas back together in a Palestinian unity government is Egypt, a nation the U.S. refers to as one of its most important Arab allies in the war on terror.
According to May, that is just one more reason the U.S. should be concerned about its relationship with (and vast military aid to) Egypt. Other reasons include Cairo's "encouragement of anti-Americanism and its oppression of genuine reformers."
European nations co-sponsoring the Middle East peace process with the U.S. likewise seem intent on forging a new path, contrary to that of the Bush administration and its determined efforts to prevent a future partnership between the recognized terrorists in Hamas and those Palestinians it deems to be moderate.
Earlier this week, the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee released a report urging the government to stop participating in the U.S.-led isolation of Hamas. The panel of leading British lawmakers said London should be facilitating the formation of a new Palestinian unity government that includes both Hamas and Fatah.
Israel's ambassador to Britain, Zvi Hefetz, responded on Monday by releasing a statement that called the committee's findings "saddening."
The Foreign Affairs Committee "is suggesting rewarding an extremist group, committed to destroying any hope for peace in the Middle East, by granting it international legitimacy," said Hefetz.
A day after the British parliamentary report was published, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi called on Hamas to enter into dialogue with the West, Germany's DPA news agency reported.
Prodi said that regardless of Hamas' past sins, the group's existence is a reality and its political influence cannot be ignored.
Gaza-based Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded by thanking the Europeans for their "positive" statements regarding cooperation with his movement.
"Such positive stances came after Europe and the West realized how fatal their mistake was when they decided to boycott [Hamas]", said Zuhri.
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