(photo credit: Rafael D. Frankel)
The European Union has reacted with a collective gasp of astonishment at the scale of Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections. I remember vividly the same sense of bewilderment at the "No" votes on the European constitution last summer by France and the Netherlands.
Not only did the EU fail to anticipate that reaction from voters - or chose to turn a blind eye - EU politicians failed to acknowledge that they themselves were largely responsible for the morass they found themselves in. So it is now with Hamas.
But not all of us in Brussels are shocked by the emergence of Hamas as a democratically elected political party. For more than a decade the Palestinian Authority under Fatah allowed the Palestinian elite to pocket aid money at will. The Palestinian attorney-general announced some days ago that around $700 million had been stolen - although the fact that this information has emerged only after Fatah's defeat calls his political independence into question.
This corruption was perhaps in Israel's best interest - Yitzhak Rabin knew that, ultimately, he would be much better able to cut a final peace deal with a secular Fatah susceptible to financial sweeteners than an ideologically pure Islamic group like Hamas.
The EU knew that plunder was endemic in the PA, and chose to ignore it. But in a democracy - even one as imperfect as the Palestinian Authority - corrupt governments never last forever. Ordinary Palestinians decided they would ignore it no longer.
The fact that the EU sent $350 million every year to the PA therefore makes Brussels a party to this corruption and indirectly responsible for the situation we now find ourselves in with Hamas. Yet the reaction among senior EU politicians to Hamas's victory is one of amazement - how could it have happened, they wonder. BACK IN 2003, I and other MEPs raised this issue with the European Commission, which is responsible for distributing aid money. We called for an investigation into the wanton misappropriation of Palestinian funds. There was huge resistance from the commission, which has always been sympathetic to the Palestinians and seen itself as a counterbalance to America's support for Israel. We did get our inquiry, hamstrung though it was by a diluted mandate. The outcome was a whitewash, and we were not allowed to debate the inquiry's findings.
By this time, it was far too late anyway. The Oslo Accords had been signed a decade before. Yasser Arafat was ailing, but still determined to resist a peace deal and hell-bent on controlling all levels of Palestinian government, using wads of cash as a favored measure of patronage. He must have thought Fatah, as the main faction of the PLO, had a natural claim to permanent rule of the PA.
But Hamas had already begun to provide basic services like education and health care, which the Fatah-led PA had neglected - perhaps because it had no more money left after senior officials had taken their share.
The EU sees the election of Hamas as a dilemma. I don't consider it a dilemma, whether or not to negotiate with and fund a terrorist group committed to Israel's annihilation We in the EU need to have faith in our core values. Of course, we consider democracy an inviolable principle, but it means nothing without human rights. Hamas may have won power democratically, but we cannot compromise our principles by accepting Hamas as an honest broker just because that's all we've got to go with.
Hamas is committed to a global jihad through violence comparable to the suicide bombings that killed 52 people in July last year in London, the city I represent. Hamas may have won power democratically, but it seeks the creation of a global Islamic theocracy under Shari'a law.
Would any European Union country allow such a party to participate in national elections? Of course not. That is why we must be resolute. To deal with and subsidize a Hamas which stirs up violence and preaches death to Israel would be to show the EU as a soft touch on terrorism. We would be storing up immense trouble for ourselves in the future.
The ball is in Hamas's court.
The writer, a member of the European Parliament, is Foreign Affairs Spokesman for the UK Conservative delegation and Vice-President of the Parliament's Human Rights subcommittee.