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President George W. Bush says the United States would cut off aid to the next Palestinian government unless election winner Hamas abolishes the militant arm of its party and stops demanding the destruction of Israel.
"And if they don't, we won't deal with them," Bush said in an interview aired Friday on "The CBS Evening News."
"The aid packages won't go forward," the president said. "That's their decision to make, but we won't be providing help to a government that wants to destroy our ally and friend."
The United States views Hamas as a terrorist organization, and if it takes control of the Palestinian government, as appears likely, all US aid to the Palestinian people will be put under review, the Bush administration said.
"The law and our policies state that no money goes to terrorist organizations," Sean McCormack, a spokesman at the State Department, said earlier Friday.
This year, the US government is providing $150 million in US assistance for Palestinian development and other needs, McCormack said. Another $84 million is distributed through the United Nations.
"The Palestinian people have humanitarian needs, they are a poor people," he said. But McCormack also said financial aid must be reviewed and said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would take this up when she meets in London on Monday with UN, European and Russian officials.
Together, they form the so-called Quartet that developed a roadmap or blueprint designed to steer Israel and the Palestinians into peace talks.
But that process appears in peril with Hamas' strong showing and likely control of a future Palestinian government.
The toughest task facing the United States is determining whether the peace process can proceed, and if so, how. The administration would have to find a way to negotiate with the Palestinians without talking directly to Hamas.
The militant Islamic group is sworn to destroy Israel and has conducted numerous terrorist operations against that country.
Urging Hamas to renounce terrorism, which the late Yasser Arafat did under US urging in 1988, President George W. Bush said, "If your platform is the destruction of Israel it means you are not a partner in peace. And we're interested in peace."
At a White House news conference Thursday, Bush said a party that seeks Israel's destruction "is a party with which we will not deal." But he also said, "Peace is never dead because people want peace."
Bush himself had left open the possibility of halting aid to the Palestinians if their government winds up dominated by Hamas, a militant Islamic group listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization. This year, the Palestinians are receiving $150 million for development programs on the West Bank and in Gaza.
The threat was echoed on Capitol Hill by a nonbinding Senate resolution condemning Hamas and expressing support for halting assistance to the Palestinian government.
The symbolic resolution, crafted by Sen. John Thune says aid should be ended if the party controlling the Palestinian parliament advocates the destruction of Israel, which Hamas does. It was unclear when the Senate would vote on the proposal.
Congress' reluctance to continue US financial support was also illustrated by lawmakers' comments, including remarks by House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
"Hamas has shown that it prefers terrorism against innocent civilians to pursue its political aims, and the United States should play no role in assisting a majority terrorist parliament," Hastert said in a statement.
Other members of Congress were also critical of Hamas' victory over the more mainstream Fatah Party. And Bush called on Abbas to remain in office.
Abbas said he was committed to reaching peace with Israel and suggested talks would be conducted through the Palestine Liberation Organization, a possible way around a Hamas-led government.
But Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, a private group that favors a two-state solution, said "a cutoff would precipitate a real mess," especially if European and other governments also suspend aid.
For instance, Asali said, the salaries of some 110,000 employees of the Palestinian government come, in large part, from grants and credits. "The people depend on their salaries every month," Asali said in an interview.
"We do not need an immediate economic crisis on top of the political crisis," he said.
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