The European Union is threatening to cut off aid to the Palestinians, after the Islamic militant group Hamas won key local elections in the West Bank. The rise of Hamas could have dire consequences for the peace process.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says the organization could halt tens of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority, if Hamas wins landmark parliamentary elections next month. The Islamic militant group appears headed for victory, after it won municipal elections in the West Bank's biggest cities.
Hamas is responsible for dozens of deadly suicide bombings and it seeks the destruction of Israel. So both Europe and the United States say they fear that if Hamas enters the Palestinian government, it will doom the peace process.
Mr. Solana spoke to reporters in Tel Aviv.
"It is very difficult that parties that do not condemn violence to be partners for the future," he said.
Europe is the biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority, giving more than $300 million dollars a year. The EU threat to cut off aid followed a U.S. House of Representatives resolution passed Friday that stated American support for the Palestinian Authority would be at risk if Hamas joins the government. Hamas is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.
Israel welcomed the tough European and American position. Israeli Cabinet Minister Danny Naveh.
"Such kind of fundamentalist terrorist organization, like Hamas, cannot play a political role," he said. "As long as they are terrorists, and they are bloody terrorists, it is obvious that they cannot play a political role."
The Palestinian Authority rejected the criticism, saying it is interference in an "internal Palestinian affair." Palestinian Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
"It is not acceptable. People must respect the democratic choice of the Palestinian people," he said.
Moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas invited Hamas to participate in elections, hoping that by joining the political process, the group would renounce violence.
But the move could backfire. Hamas has vowed to use its newly found political power to continue with the jihad, or holy war, against Israel. Mr. Abbas, who seeks to revive the peace process, faces the prospect of losing international support and his grip on power.