United States-led sanctions on the Gaza Strip have thus far played into the hands of Hamas, earning it more sympathy among radicalized and disillusioned Palestinians.

Because of these mistakes, the Gaza Strip is now swarming with scores of Islamic fundamentalist groups who are leading the Palestinians toward the abyss. If Israel repeats the same mistake and withdraws from any territory unilaterally, Hamas, the Iranians and Al-Qaeda-inspired groups will be sitting also in the suburbs of Jerusalem and on hilltops overlooking Tel Aviv beaches. The last time Abbas received control of an area, in 2005, he ran away, handing it over to Hamas and its allies.

Hamas's rise to power may be attributed to a series of mistakes that were committed by the former US Administration, which insisted on holding a free and democratic election for the Palestinians, ignoring warnings that the Islamist movement could win.

Even worse, the former US Administration allowed Hamas to participate in the election unconditionally. Washington should at least have demanded that Hamas recognize the Oslo Accords and the two-state solution, given the fact that the vote was being held under the umbrella of the peace process.

The US finally did demand something from Hamas, but only after the movement had won the election.

Yet the biggest mistake Washington made was after the election, when it supported the guys who lost the election in their attempts to bring down the Hamas government.

When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, there was a lot of talk about turning the area into the Middle East's Hong Kong or Singapore. But five years later, the Gaza Strip has been transformed into a center for radical Islamic groups that are funded by Iran and backed by Syria, Sudan, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, Muslim Brotherhood and probably Al-Qaeda-linked terror cells.

Back then, everyone - Israelis, Arabs and Europeans - said they would help the 1.3 million Palestinians living there build new housing units, schools, universities, hospitals and industrial zones.

But five years later, the Gaza Strip has been transformed into a center for radical Islamic groups that are funded by Iran and backed by Syria, Sudan, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, Muslim Brotherhood and probably Al-Qaeda-linked terror cells.

After Hamas came to power, the Americans started providing Fatah with weapons and money with the hope that the faction would be able to overthrow the Hamas regime. These attempts backfired and strengthened Hamas to a point where it finally managed to drive Abbas's loyalists out of the Gaza Strip.

Israel's unilateral withdrawal sent the wrong message to the Palestinians - namely that the Jews ran away because of the suicide bombings and rockets. Many Palestinians gave Hamas credit for driving Israel out of the Gaza Strip through violence.

This was why it was no surprise that a few months later, in January 2006, Hamas won the parliamentary election held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority had warned Washington against holding such elections, to no avail.

Hamas boycotted the first parliamentary election in 1996 because it was being held under the umbrella of the Oslo Accords. The movement was afraid that its participation would be interpreted as recognition of the two-state solution. Ten years later, Hamas ran in the same election - under the umbrella of the Oslo Accords - without having to make any political concessions.

The biggest mistake Israel made was that it refused to coordinate its pullout with anyone and insisted on carrying it out unilaterally. Israel just woke up one morning and left, leaving the entire Gaza Strip in the hands of Mahmoud Abbas and his weak, corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority.

One hopes the U.S. will learn from it's mistakes.

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