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Hamas now supports the Palestinian Authority. How should the U.S. respond?

Should the U.S. continue to cooperate with the new Hamas-backed government?

The Obama administration has angered Israel by saying that it will continue to work with, and provide assistance to, the Palestinian Authority even after a reconciliation between President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamist movement Hamas. But the administration makes a persuasive case that, despite having the support of Hamas, the new Palestinian administration consists of moderate officials who recognize Israel's right to exist and the necessity of a two-state solution.

As Secretary of State John F. Kerry bluntly noted Wednesday: "Hamas is a terrorist organization. It has not accepted the Quartet principles [a reference to a peace initiative launched by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations]. It continues to call for the destruction of Israel." But Hamas is not a force that can be easily ignored. Since 2007 — a year after it won a majority in elections for the Palestinian parliament — it has controlled the Gaza Strip, while much of the West Bank has been governed by Abbas' Fatah movement. That political division has weakened Abbas' influence, including his ability to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel.

Even as he accepted Hamas' support, Abbas insisted that negotiations with Israel would remain the responsibility of the Palestine Liberation Organization. (Those talks are in abeyance after the collapse of Kerry's most recent efforts.)

As for the new Palestinian Cabinet, it is dominated by "technocrats" with no political affiliations whose priority is economic development. Indeed, most of the key officials — including Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah — have served in their positions before. None is affiliated with Hamas.

Israel insists that in courting the support of Hamas, Abbas has aligned himself with terrorists. Given the number of civilians brutally killed by Hamas rockets and suicide bombs, Israel's concerns are understandable. It worries that the Palestinian Authority's cooperation with Israel on security in the West Bank will suffer because Abbas is now beholden to Hamas. Not unreasonably, Israel has said that it will hold the Authority responsible for any attacks, whether they originate in the West Bank or Gaza.

Israel is obviously free to frame its own response to the unity government, though it would be self-defeating for it to rush to cut ties with the Palestinian Authority before it's clear that Abbas isn't abiding by his assurances. For the U.S., continued aid to the authority — which amounts to $500 million a year — is conditioned on proof that Hamas doesn't exert "undue influence" over the government. So long as that remains true, the U.S. should continue to support the authority even as it insists that Hamas abandon its rejectionism and renounce terror.

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