Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter warned the United States, Israel and the European Union that if they continue their policy of favoring Fatah over Hamas they will doom the Palestinian people to deepening conflict between the rival movements.
Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was addressing a conference of Irish human rights officials, said the Bush administration's refusal to accept the 2006 election victory of Hamas was "criminal."
Carter said Hamas, besides winning a fair and democratic mandate that should have entitled it to lead the Palestinian government, had proven itself to be far more organized in its political and military showdowns with the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas fighters routed Fatah in their violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last week. The split prompted Abbas to dissolve the power-sharing government with his rivals in Hamas and set up a Fatah-led administration to govern the West Bank.
Carter said the American-Israeli-European consensus to reopen direct aid to the new government in the West Bank, but to deny the same to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, represented an "effort to divide Palestinians into two peoples."
While seeking to boycott the Hamas leadership because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel, Europe and the U.S. have continued to send humanitarian aid to Gaza through the United Nations and other organizations.
During his speech to Ireland's eighth annual Forum on Human Rights, the 83-year-old former president said monitors from his Carter Center observed the 2006 election in which Hamas won 42 percent of the popular vote and a majority of parliamentary seats.
Carter said that election was "orderly and fair" and Hamas triumphed, in part, because it was "shrewd in selecting candidates," whereas a divided, corrupt Fatah ran multiple candidates for single seats.
Far from encouraging Hamas' move into parliamentary politics, Carter said the U.S. and Israel, with European Union acquiescence, has sought to subvert the outcome by shunning Hamas and helping Abbas to keep the reins of political and military power.
"That action was criminal," he said in a news conference after his speech.
"The United States and Israel decided to punish all the people in Palestine and did everything they could to deter a compromise between Hamas and Fatah," he said.
Carter said the United States and others supplied the Fatah-controlled security forces in Gaza with vastly superior weaponry in hopes they would "conquer Hamas in Gaza" - but Hamas this month routed Fatah because of its "superior skills and discipline."
He said plans to reopen international aid to the West Bank, but clamp down on aid to Gaza, would imprison 1.4 million Gazans. He called for both territories to be treated equally.
"This effort to divide Palestinians into two peoples now is a step in the wrong direction," he said. "All efforts of the international community should be to reconcile the two, but there's no effort from the outside to bring the two together."
Carter was pessimistic this would happen soon.
"I don't see at this point any possibility that public officials in the United States, or in Israel, or the European Union are going to take action to bring about a reconciliation," he said.
Carter was U.S. president from 1977 to 1981, during which he brokered the Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt but suffered foreign policy embarrassments in Iran, Afghanistan and Nicaragua. He won the 2002 Nobel in recognition of his globe-trotting work leading the Atlanta, Georgia-based Carter Center, which promotes conflict mediation, disease prevention and election monitoring worldwide.