by RAY FLEMING l THE New York Times is a superb newspaper but it has been known to get things wrong from time to time. I fervently hope that the story it began to run yesterday afternoon, about a US and Israeli plan to “starve out” Hamas from the government of Palestine, is one of those that proves to be wrong, although I doubt that it is. The newspaper says it is based on information from the highest levels of the US State Department and Israeli government. Both, of course, have denied it. Under this plan the Palestinian Authority would be cut off from most of its funds and its international connections, to the point that it would be unable to function. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, would then call a new election which, the plan's authors believe, would result in a victory for the Fatah party which was in power before the election. This is so bizarre that it beggars belief. To begin with, it would kill for ever any prospect of President Bush's drive for democracy in the Middle East succeeding. Hamas won the Palestinian election fair and square but Mr Bush and the Israelis think it was the wrong result and want it overturned. The problem, of course, is Hamas' refusal to jump to attention and instantly change its opposition to the existence of Israel. But the way to effect this change is not by trying to cancel an election which Hamas has won, but by skilful negotiation to persuade Hamas that the better life they want for the Palestinian people is more likely to be achieved by peaceful means than by violence. Such transformations have been achieved before and in this case it is only Israel's intransigence, and America's support of it, that prevents it being achieved again. The nightmare outcome of any plan to unseat a Hamas government by starving it of money is not difficult to imagine. The violence of recent years between Israel and the Palestinians would be multiplied, the Middle East region would be further destabilised with Iran increasingly involved, and whatever fading influence the United States still possesses in the area would disappear entirely. The urgent need for is for the United Nations, the EU and Russia to make absolutely clear that any plan of the kind outlined yesterday would be totally unacceptable.