U.S. President George W. Bush ruled out giving aid to a Hamas government after its surprise election win on Wednesday unless it renounced violence and reversed its stance on Israel.
"They've got to get rid of that arm of their party which is armed and violent and secondly, they've got to get rid of that part of their platform that says they want to destroy Israel," Bush said in an interview with CBS News.
"And if they don't, we won't deal with them. Aid packages won't go forward," he said.
The State Department went a step further on Friday, signaling that the United States would review all money given to Palestinians through the United Nations or nongovernmental groups, in addition to direct aid to the Palestinian Authority.
“To be very clear, we do not provide money to terrorist organizations," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
“We will take a look at the full spectrum of our aid programs.”
McCormack said everyone understood the Palestinians were poor and needed help, but he said U.S. financial assistance had to follow U.S. laws and policies.
The aid issue would be discussed, he said, during talks in London on Monday with other members of the so-called Quartet of Middle East mediating powers -- the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.
Meanwhile, Jacob Walles, the U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem, said the U.S. would not deliver assistance to terror organizations, members of terror organizations or ministries controlled by people belonging to terror organizations.
The United States, the European Union and Israel all consider Hamas to be a terrorist group.
Hamas won an overwhelming victory in Palestinian legislative elections on Wednesday, capturing 76 of 132 seats. The victory stunned the world and sent Israel, the U.S. and Europe scrambling to figure out how to deal with the sudden rise of the group responsible for dozens of suicide bombings against Israel.
'Hamas has to make a choice'
The U.S. gave the Palestinian Authority USD 400 million in direct aid last year and several million more through various U.N. charities, Walles said. Some of the money was handed directly to Palestinian ministries.
"I don't see how we would do that if those ministries were controlled by Hamas," Walles said.
"At this point, Hamas has to make a choice. The onus is on them," he added. "If you want to be part of the political process ... you need to recognize Israel, you need to disarm and you need to renounce terror and violence. The choice is theirs."
Without Western financial aid, the bankrupt Palestinian Authority, which ran a USD 1 billion operating deficit last year, would almost surely collapse.
Foreign donors have poured about USD 1 billion annually into the Palestinian Authority, financing vast reconstruction efforts in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The United States is the single largest donor country, and along with Europe provides the vast majority of the foreign aid to the Palestinians.
Former President Jimmy Carter, in an interview with The Associated Press, said Friday that "United States law would require that the money would be cut off if Hamas is in the government, so that's a foregone conclusion."
However, he said Washington should find other ways to channel funds to the Palestinians "so that the people can still continue to have food and shelter and health care and education."
Walles left open the option of earmarking money for Palestinians through contractors and non-governmental organizations, thus bypassing the potential Hamas-controlled ministries.
"We would not be providing assistance that in any way would benefit Hamas or any other terrorist organization," he asserted.
The European Union also issued stern warnings Friday of cutting off aid to Palestinians.
"It is obvious that the EU would never countenance funding a regime that continued an armed fight against Israel," said Ignasi Guardans, a Spanish member of the EU parliament.
Although Hamas has operated a large-scale network of social services for years, it had never run before for national office or been responsible for the well-being of the 3.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
On domestic issues, it will have no choice but to deal with Israel since much of the Palestinian Authority's economy and infrastructure is linked with Israel's. The Palestinians are hooked up to Israel's electricity grid and water system, and under interim peace accords of the 1990s, Israel collects tens of millions of dollars in taxes monthly for the Palestinian Authority.
Israel potentially has the power to strangle the Palestinians economically by freezing tax transfers or by blocking the passage of goods to and from Gaza.