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The Palestinians must subordinate groups such as Hamas under a national governing body if they want to "get their act together," U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer said Monday night. "The analytical assumption," Kurtzer said, "is that it has to happen in the next few months."

The fragile cease-fire agreement could still become undone by what Kurtzer called "a game of chicken" between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to see "who can do better as a result of this hudna." The ambassador said Hamas did not believe it would be dismantled, and that there was concern that it could try to use the cease-fire to become stronger.

"Hamas believes it can outsmart and outfox the PA, Israel and us," Kurtzer told about 200 rabbis and Jewish lay leaders attending summer seminars at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

One of the reasons compelling Hamas to join the Palestinian cease-fire was a cut in the funding it received from Saudi Arabia and Europe - a move that had come about due to pressure from the United States, Kurtzer said. He added that the U.S. was still fighting European resistance to reduce direct and indirect financial aid to the militant organization.

The U.S. is also maintaining "very strong pressure" on Syria and Iran, which have been implicated in sponsoring terror and create "the most problems when it comes to stirring up trouble in this region," Kurtzer said. One difficulty the Palestinians face, Kurtzer said, was that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was a weak leader.

"Abu Mazen, we know, is a relatively weak man," Kurtzer said, adding that Abbas tended to "run away from problems rather than try to solve them."

Due in part to U.S. pressure, "he's doing a little bit better," Kurtzer said. "It's not easy to change behavioral patterns after that many years."

Kurtzer repeated U.S. President George W. Bush's assertion that the U.S. was not interested in an internal Palestinian cease-fire except as a means to dismantle terror, and that the U.S. would not accept a potential breakdown of the hudna as an excuse for failing to do so.

The most hopeful element of the nascent peace process was the bilateral political track that had developed between key Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Kurtzer said. Sounding like a proud parent, Kurtzer said that while Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had informed the U.S. of their meeting last week, "they did it themselves."

"We didn't hold their hands; we didn't give them statements; we didn't give them incentives," Kurtzer said, pointing also to the follow-up meetings that took place Sunday between Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Minister for Security Affairs Mohammed Dahlan, and yesterday between Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr as a signal that direct political negotiations were moving forward.

"It is a very interesting development that we certainly did stimulate," Kurtzer said. "But the fact that they've taken this and run on their own is, I think, one of the best hopes this process has."