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So sorry

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could have saved herself a trip.

Traveling the Middle East last week, she was rebuffed in her attempts to get financial aid withheld from the Hamas-led Palestinian government. In Cairo and Riyadh, the answer was the same: no. The fact that Hamas came to power in a democratic election that the Bush administration pronounced free and fair undercut Ms. Rice's pitch against funding a sponsor of terrorism. That's the administration's conundrum.

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But this was a bad idea from the start - sapping the newly elected Palestinian leaders of the millions of dollars they need to run a government. The Bush administration should have worked quietly to persuade its allies to shun Hamas, the patron of suicide bombers who have killed scores in Israel. It didn't need to lead the charge on this front for several reasons. First, Israel had decided to withhold $50 million in taxes it collects monthly for the Palestinians. Second, the majority of U.S. aid never flowed directly to the Palestinian Authority; it was distributed through humanitarian and development groups.

Last, withholding aid from a Hamas-led government was unlikely to accomplish the White House's goal - a renunciation of violence and recognition of Israel's right to exist. Hamas wasn't going to commit simply because the U.S. demanded it. And now it doesn't have to.

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As many feared, Iran has rushed in to offer money. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are standing firm in their support of the new Palestinian government, in part because of the popularity of Islamists in their countries. In a nod to the U.S., the Saudis, who contribute $15 million monthly as part of an Arab League Palestinian aid package, did state their support for a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hamas won its parliamentary majority with a promise of change, to clean up the corruption and dysfunction in the Palestinian Authority. Now it has to make good on that promise. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should use his influence to maintain a nearly yearlong cease-fire. But the new government must rein in militant factions that continue to provoke Israel if it wants an end to the retaliatory strikes and operations that killed several Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza last week.

The best the United States can hope for now is that the rigors and responsibility of governing will awaken Hamas to the reality that to rule effectively it will need to forge a relationship with international donors based on mutual respect and goals - the renunciation of violence foremost among them.



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