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Cut off all aid to Hamas Terror group needs to earn its way to table of peace and statesmanship

Sending an ironic message to Hamas, Israel began wiping itself partially off the map last week. In forceful action marred by clashes with its citizens, the government bulldozed nine illegally built permanent homes in a West Bank "outpost."

The controversial razings, with huge political ramifications, restart a stalled 2003 process Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised would remove many such settlements as part of the roadmap to peace. That would include land returned to the Palestinians for creation of an independent state. But it also comes as Hamas, which vows to eliminate Israel, is poised to take control of the Palestinian Authority and run that state.

As divisive as this could be for Israeli society and as decisive as it might prove for the March 28 Israeli elections, the razing of outposts adds pressure on Hamas. That organization, branded as a terrorist group, won a wide parliamentary margin in January's election but still faces a test in forming a government that can negotiate with Israel for a better Palestinian future.

The United States, Europe and -- more recently and more tellingly -- Egypt, set conditions for that process. Generally, they demand that Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel and commit to agreements already reached with Israel as preconditions for continuing the peace process that offers the best hope for an independent Palestinian state.

The United States should end financial assistance to a Palestinian Authority led by an unchanged Hamas. That would be morally unacceptable, however much it might drive Hamas further toward Iran or other terrorist-supporting donors. Washington's current stance -- aid to the holdover government until a new government is formed, and a threat of aid curtailment unless Hamas proves globally responsible -- is correct. Because the United States' $70 million in direct aid is only a small part of the $1 billion in international contributions, it also is good to see similar demands from the United Nations, European Union and Russia. Egypt's stance adds pressure for Hamas, which now must decide whether to change its charter and if its political wing should rise above its violent past.

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