- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

JERUSALEM — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday rejected calls for U.S. engagement with the militant Palestinian group Hamas and urged Palestinians not to vote for the group’s candidates in upcoming parliamentary elections.

“I frankly don’t think that it is the dream of mothers and fathers around the world that their children will be suicide bombers,” she said. “I don’t think it is the dream of people around the world that their children will have no future but one of violence.”

The parliamentary elections, which had been scheduled for July, were postponed indefinitely earlier this month.

Miss Rice, on her second visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories since assuming office in January, said after a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Washington will only deal with nationally elected officials.

“There is an elected president and a government with which we are dealing,” she said at a press conference with Mr. Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “We are the government of the United States. This is the government of the Palestinian people.”

The secretary’s comments came after Hamas members disclosed Thursday that they had had regular contacts with European Union diplomats. Although EU officials in Brussels denied the contacts, they noted that dealing with Hamas may be hard to avoid since the group has won control of dozens of West Bank and Gaza towns in recent municipal elections.

Both the Unites States and the EU insist they still view Hamas as a terrorist organization.

While Miss Rice praised Mr. Abbas for taking “some concrete steps toward security reform,” she said that “much more needs to be done, particularly to use actively the security forces to combat lawlessness and to combat terrorism.”

Miss Rice spent most of her time during meetings with several senior Palestinian leaders on Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, which is set to begin in August. She went over many of the details of the pullout, saying they must be well coordinated between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“There is no more time to simply put problems on the agenda. This now has to be an active process of resolving these [issues],” she said. “Both parties will have to do their parts if this is indeed to be a peaceful and orderly withdrawal from the Gaza. And so this coordination function is absolutely critical.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, with whom Miss Rice was scheduled to meet today, insists that peace and quiet is essential for the withdrawal of 9,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza and part of the West Bank.

Mr. Abbas said he conveyed to the secretary “our commitment to the period of quiet and to democratic development … as being in the Palestinian interest.”

“We are committed to complete coordination with the Israeli side to guarantee a total and clean withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and areas in the northern West Bank,” he said.

But he also complained about “Israeli violations,” such as “the continuation of settlement activities, the construction of the [West Bank security] wall and changing the Jerusalem landscape.”

Miss Rice said the Israelis “should take no actions that try somehow to predetermine or prejudge the outcome of final status, because these are issues … that are going to have to be resolved at the time of final status between the two parties, mutually agreed.”

Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas are due to meet Tuesday. It will be their first meeting since Feb. 8.

Miss Rice is on a seven-stop tour of the Middle East and Europe. She was scheduled to fly to Jordan today, and will later visit Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

She will then travel to Brussels for a conference on Iraq and London for a ministerial meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized countries.

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