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Editorial: Palestinian unity and peace

The reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and the Islamist group Hamas announced Monday is uncertain and problematic, but could be a step toward eventual peace with Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' agreement to head a unity government in preparation for elections in the West Bank and Gaza was met with a dire warning from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Abbas could have peace with Israel or unity with Hamas, but not both, he said. But any agreement that leaves Hamas on the outside, firing missiles into Israel, will be no peace at all.

If this bid for a unity government should succeed where others have failed, the United States would have to decide whether to continue sending $450 million a year in aid to the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is a terrorist group, and Congress has forbidden aid to terrorists.

The prospect of losing that aid should increase pressure on Hamas to meet U.S. and Israeli demands that it recognize Israel, abandon violence and accept the Palestinian Authority's previous agreements. That's a long shot, but it would be a historic breakthrough.

With democratic reform ignited by Arab Spring protests haltingly progressing in the region, Hamas needs to recognize that the best route to ensuring its relevance is not terrorism but participation in the democratic process. Agreeing to join a unity government could be a sign that it does.