ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE, Feb 21 (Reuters) President George W Bush today said Hamas, which won the Palestinian elections, should not be funded until it recognizes the right of Israel to exist and becomes a ''partner in peace.'' An already cash-strapped Palestinian authority is facing a looming financial crisis after Israel halted monthly tax payments, and Hamas's top political leader, Khaled Meshaal, said Iran would play an increasing role in Palestinian affairs.
The US government does not give direct grants to the Palestinian Authority, but gives grants through nongovernmental organizations and USAID.
''So long as Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist, my view is we don't have a partner in peace and therefore shouldn't fund a government that is not a partner in peace,'' Bush told reporters on his plane returning to Washington from Colorado.
Hamas crushed the long-dominant Fatah faction in a January 25 election on a platform of rooting out corruption in the Palestinian Authority.
The United States and the European Union have threatened to freeze all but humanitarian aid if a Hamas-led government refused to renounce violence and recognize Israel, prompting the militant group to appeal for support from Iran and others.
''I thought the elections were important,'' Bush said.
But, he added, ''because the Palestinians spoke doesn't necessarily mean we have to agree with the nature of the party elected.'' Hamas has said it is for the destruction of Israel, ''and our policy is two states living side by side in peace, and therefore it's hard to have a state living side by side in peace when your stated objective is the destruction of one of the states,'' Bush said.
REUTERS PDS RAI0335