- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Depending on who one believes, the Palestinian elections will either provide an opportunity for the residents of the West Bank and Gaza to take an important step toward a democratic future or help them plunge further into an abyss of chaos and rejectionism. Unfortunately, some officials in the Bush administration, by signalling that Hezbollah’s role in Lebanese politics is a model that the Palestinian Authority should adopt toward the terrorist organization Hamas, is sending mixed signals to President Mahmoud Abbas, who has yet to formulate a coherent approach.

Assuming that Hamas fares well in balloting and enters the cabinet headed by Mr. Abbas, the vote will create a major problem for the administration in its efforts to work with the Palestinians and promote an independent Palestinian state. The administration is committed to both: a) promoting democracy and the rule of law in Arab and Muslim-majority lands where such things have been notably absent; and b) defeating Islamist terrorism, rather than negotiating with its purveyors. The problem is that when it comes to Hamas’ achieving success at the ballot box, democracy promotion is inconsistent with fighting terrorism and advancing respect for the rule of law.

The Bush administration appears to be trying to straddle the issue. On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said terrorism is not a “pathway to peace,” and appeared to suggest that the administration would not work with a Palestinian government dominated by Hamas. She also suggested that Hamas will have to end its involvement in terrorism if it wants to participate in the political system, stating that it does not work “to have one foot in terrorism and the other foot in politics.”

But unnamed U.S. diplomatic officials appeared to signal on Monday that the administration wants the Palestinians to adopt the Lebanese model of dealing with the terrorist group Hezbollah for its dealings with Hamas. The U.S. officials said that the U.S. formula for dealing with the Palestinian Authority following the elections would be analogous to the current policy of dealing with the Lebanese government even though Hezbollah is part of it, while shunning contact with the one cabinet minister who is formally affiliated with the terrorist group. They also said U.S. law would not necessarily bar Washington from continuing to deal with the Palestinian Authority or contributing money to it in the event that Hamas joins the government.

The suggestion that the Lebanese government’s relationship with Hezbollah could serve as a Palestinian model is troubling, and should raise serious questions for lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah (which receives $100 million a year from Iran) retains approximately 12,000 missiles with the capability of targeting population centers in Israel. Despite the fact that Israel has withdrawn from every inch of Lebanese territory it once occupied, Hezbollah (which, like Hamas, is committed to Israel’s destruction) remains the only Lebanese militia that has refused to disarm. It continues to keep the Israel-Lebanon border on a hair trigger with its periodic rocket firings into Israel and its attempts to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

Contrary to the statements of some U.S. officials, it is wrong to suggest that the Palestinian Authority adopt such a model. We hope that Miss Rice’s very sensible position prevails.

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