[Mb-civic] Vote Complicates Area's Diplomacy - Washington Post
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Thu Jan 26 03:00:15 PST 2006
Vote Complicates Area's Diplomacy
Hamas Emerges as Significant Force Despite U.S. Efforts
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2006; A19
The Bush administration has strongly urged Palestinian leaders not to
permit any Hamas members into the Palestinian cabinet, but yesterday's
better-than-expected electoral showing by a group labeled a terrorist
organization by the United States greatly complicates the
administration's diplomacy in the region, U.S. officials said yesterday.
Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, appears to have
ridden a wave of popular disgust at the perceived corruption and
incompetence of the ruling Fatah Party. Exit polls indicate Fatah will
have only a slim edge over Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council,
giving Hamas a strong claim to a role in the government.
Fatah in theory may still be able to form a government that excludes
Hamas -- formally the Islamic Resistance Movement -- but Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas has expressed hope that by bringing Hamas into
the political process, it will become a partner in seeking a peace
accord with Israel.
The results also suggested the risks inherent in the Bush
administration's campaign to bring democracy to the Middle East.
Administration spokesmen officially celebrated the "historic moment" for
the Palestinians while officials privately reeled at the outcome.
Bush administration officials had hoped Hamas would get as little as 20
percent of the vote. The Washington Post reported Sunday that the United
States had spent $2 million in recent weeks to promote the Palestinian
Authority, and by extension Fatah, in a campaign that kept U.S.
involvement hidden. Before yesterday, officials were bracing for Hamas
to receive 30 to 40 percent of the vote; exit polls indicated that Hamas
topped 40 percent of the seats.
U.S. officials, from President Bush on down, reiterated that the United
States will not deal with Hamas as long as it does not renounce violence.
"A political party, in order to be viable, is one that professes peace,
in my judgment, in order that it will keep the peace," Bush said in an
interview with the Wall Street Journal yesterday. "And so you're getting
a sense of how I'm going to deal with Hamas if they end up in positions
of responsibility. And the answer is: not until you renounce your desire
to destroy Israel will we deal with you."
Bush's statement left open the possibility that the United States would
not reject a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, but instead
that the United States would not work directly with cabinet ministers
who have Hamas connections. There is a precedent for this approach: The
Bush administration already works with the Lebanese government, even
though one cabinet member is a member of Hezbollah, also labeled a
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dick Jones, was quoted this week in the
Israeli newspaper Haaretz as saying the Lebanese model might serve as a
guide for dealing with the Palestinian Authority if Hamas joins the
government. Jones has told officials in Washington the remarks were made
at a dinner party and were taken out of context.
One major issue is that the United States has much more extensive
dealings with the Palestinian Authority than it does with Lebanon. Hamas
has indicated it would like to obtain ministerial portfolios that touch
on social services, raising questions about whether some of the hundreds
of millions of dollars in annual U.S. aid could continue to flow to
certain public works projects if they are overseen by a Hamas cabinet
Moreover, with Israel facing critical elections in March, the
administration must deal carefully with the emerging Palestinian government.
The administration must also hold together its allies in the peace
process, particularly the European Union. Last late year, the sponsors
of the "road map" peace plan, known as the Quartet, issued a statement
saying that "a future Palestinian Authority cabinet should include no
member who has not committed to the principles of Israel's right to
exist in peace and security and an unequivocal end to violence and
But that statement was not categorical, and some European officials have
indicated in recent days that instead of the black-and-white view
expressed by the United States, perhaps Hamas needed greater
encouragement to make a break with its past, much like the Irish
Republican Army. One U.S. official sighed that the European Union was
like the "International House of Pancakes -- there are a ton of waffles
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet in London next week with
her counterparts from the European Union, Russia and the United Nations
to try to reach an agreement. "There will be a very healthy debate about
how to encourage Hamas to eschew violence and get into the political
process," one diplomat involved in the discussions said.
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