White House Extends Review of Palestinian Aid

The Bush administration is extending its review of whether and how to assist Palestinians and keep U.S. contributions out of the hands of the extremist group Hamas.

On Feb. 14, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he expected a decision on U.S. assistance within two weeks. That period has ended without announcement of a decision.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has told Congress no money will go to a Hamas-led government. She also has said several times the United States would not turn its back on humanitarian projects, such as immunizing Palestinian children against disease.

The State Department has told Palestinians not to expect a formal announcement about what it will do about U.S. aid.

Instead, the State Department has said if the U.S. decides to continue aid, the money would go to specific projects, trying to skirt around Hamas, which is due to take over the Palestinian parliament by virtue of its election victory in January.

The Palestinian camp is bracing for an end to all U.S. development assistance. This year that includes $150 million for projects and another $84 million the U.S. is providing through the United Nations.

The European Union, meanwhile, has decided to provide $143 million in emergency assistance to the caretaker Palestinian government led by Mahmoud Abbas, who has U.S. and European approval.

So far, the Europeans have remained silent on what it would do once Hamas, which both the United States and the European Union classify as a terrorist organization, takes control.

With the obvious approval of Israel, against which Hamas has launched terrorist attacks, the Bush administration, the Europeans, the United Nations and Russia — the so-called Quartet devoted to peacemaking — have agreed not to help Hamas.

The European contribution drew public U.S. support.

"We are all working together to prevent a collapse of the interim (Palestinian Authority) government and to support the Palestinian people," State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said.

In light of the economic woes of the Palestinians and a desire to promote an agreement with Israel, maintaining a solid front may not be easy. Russian President Vladimir Putin has put out the welcome mat for a Hamas delegation.

The Bush administration said hopefully it expected Russia to use the occasion to encourage Hamas to abandon its campaign against Israel.

Hamas is hoping that in the talks that open Friday in Moscow it can induce the Russians to support it.