WASHINGTON – Unless Western aid can bypass Hamas and be delivered to millions of poor Palestinians, there will be chaos in the streets and no peace, Middle East envoy James D. Wolfensohn told Congress Wednesday.
"I do not believe you can have a million starving Palestinians and have peace," Wolfensohn said.
His own future uncertain — the former international banker and Wall Street financier said he is considering stepping down — Wolfensohn told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that it may take months to find a way to help the Palestinians without dealing with a Hamas-led government.
Hanging in the balance, he said, were the lives of millions of Palestinians, the stability of the region and a stalled Mideast peace process. Still, Wolfensohn endorsed the principle of not dealing with a Hamas-led government unless Hamas renounces terror and accepts Israel's right to exist.
The so-called Quartet of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, which is promoting a blueprint for peacemaking between the Palestinians and Israel, has made clear that Hamas must commit to nonviolence, Wolfensohn said.
"I agree with this position unequivocally," he testified.
Wolfensohn, who represents the Quartet, said it could take weeks if not months to devise a method of delivering assistance to the Palestinian people.
"We need time to determine the principles involved in dealing with the essential issue of the livelihood of the Palestinians," he said.
Wolfensohn stressed that the task, which he said could involve the United Nations, private relief groups and churches, was urgent.
"If you have a million Palestinian kids in the streets how can you have peace?" he asked. "Kids won't have schools and there will be chaos in the streets."
At the same time, Wolfensohn said he did not agree with the view expressed by some experts that Hamas, which scored an overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections in January, would turn out to be incompetent in governing and would be removed.
"I don't think the Palestinians will throw them out," he said.
Asked about reports he would leave his post, Wolfensohn said he had not decided but was considering it. Without elaborating, he told the committee the purpose of the job he has held for a year had become unclear, and that at his age — 72 — he was thinking of how best to use his remaining years.
Testifying on the security situation in Palestinian areas, Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton said he had avoided all contact with Hamas in advising Israel and the Palestinians on ways to maintain order.
He described Hamas militia as "very lethal and very dangerous" and said its election makes establishing security "enormously difficult."
While it is not clear how the situation with a Hamas-led government will develop, it "may derail our efforts," Dayton said.