The Obama administration, already on treacherous political ground because of its outreach to traditional adversaries such as Iran and Cuba, has opened the door a crack to engagement with the militant group Hamas.The mindset that can equate Islamic terrorists with the IRA is a classic example of the West not understanding Islamic terrorism.
The Palestinian group is designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization and under law may not receive federal aid.
But the administration has asked Congress for minor changes in U.S. law that would permit aid to continue flowing to Palestinians in the event Hamas-backed officials become part of a unified Palestinian government.
The administration requested the changes this month as part of an $83.4-billion emergency spending bill that also contains funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill also would provide $840 million for the Palestinian Authority and for rebuilding in Gaza after the 22-day Israeli military assault this year. The administration still is wrestling with how to deliver the aid to Gaza because of the tough federal restrictions on dealing with Hamas.
U.S. officials insist that the new proposal doesn't amount to recognizing or aiding Hamas. Under law, any U.S. aid would require that the Palestinian government meet three long-standing criteria: recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and agreeing to follow past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Hamas as an organization doesn't meet those criteria. However, if the rival Palestinian factions manage to reach a power-sharing deal, the Obama administration wants to be able to provide aid as long as the Hamas-backed members of the government -- if not Hamas itself -- meet the three criteria.
Clinton defended the administration's position last week before Congress. She said that the United States supports and funds the Lebanese government, even though it includes members of Hezbollah, another militant group on the U.S. terrorist list.
She contended that the United States should try to gradually change the attitudes of Hamas members, as it did with militants in Northern Ireland, where it helped broker a deal that included the Irish Republican Army, even though not all of its members agreed.
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