- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

President Bush said today that Hamas cannot be a partner for Middle East peacemaking without renouncing violence, and he reiterated that the United States will not deal with Palestinian leaders who do not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Bush urged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to remain in office after Wednesday’s stunning Hamas victory over Abbas’ Fatah faction in Palestinian elections.

“If your platform is the destruction of Israel, it means you’re not a partner in peace, and we’re interested in peace,” Bush told reporters at a news conference.

The Islamic militants, who carried out dozens of suicide bombings and seek Israel’s destruction, have said they oppose peace talks and will not disarm. Israel also refuses to deal with Hamas.

The group’s unexpected electoral victory immediately raised questions about the future of the peace process between the Palestinians and Israel, and how the United States will be able to influence those efforts.

“Peace is never dead,” Bush said. But he added that the election results are a “wake-up call” to the old guard Palestinian leadership. Many of those leaders are holdovers from the days of Yasser Arafat.

The Hamas victory “reminds me about the power of democracy,” Bush said.

“You see, when you give people the vote, give them the chance to express themselves at the polls and they’re unhappy with the status quo, they’ll let you know,” he said.

He cautioned that the Palestinians have not formed a new government yet.

Palestinian leaders huddled to determine what role the Islamic militant group will play in governing the territories.

Abbas will ask Hamas to form the next government, with his defeated Fatah Party weighing whether to form a partnership or serve in the opposition.

Bush did not directly answer a question about whether the results will affect U.S. aid to the Palestinians, although he suggested it could.

“I made it very clear that the United States does not support political parties that want to destroy our ally Israel, and that people must renounce that part of their platform,” Bush said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to Abbas on Thursday, and plans to confer by phone with other members of the international group trying to shepherd Israel and the Palestinians back to the peace table.

Before Bush spoke, Rice told a European audience that the U.S. position on Hamas as a terrorist organization has not changed with the election.

“You cannot have one foot in politics and another in terror,” Rice told the World Economic Conference in Davos, Switzerland via a telephone hookup to the State Department. “Our position on Hamas has therefore not changed.”

“Palestinian people have apparently voted for change, but we believe their aspirations for peace and a peaceful life remain unchanged,” she said. Rice said those goals will require renunciation of violence and terrorism and acceptance of Israel’s right to exist side-by-side with a Palestinian state.

“Anyone who wants to govern the Palestinian people and do so with the support of the international community has got to be committed to a two-state solution,” Rice said. “You can’t have a peace process if you’re not committed to the right of your partner to exist.”

She predicted that the world will “speak clearly” on those points over the next day or so, but did not outline just how the United States plans to proceed.

The initial speculation Wednesday - as Hamas ran neck-and-neck with Abbas’ Fatah Party - was that Hamas would steer clear of cabinet posts involving peacemaking efforts and would be consigned to domestic ministries such as education.

But Hamas’ defeat of Fatah could change that calculation in a way that might put pressure on Washington to find a way to both uphold aversion to the militant group and also promote peacemaking.

For years, even though he was the unquestioned leader of the Palestinians, the United States declined to deal with - or even have contact with - the late leader Arafat.

Under U.S. pressure in the Reagan administration, Arafat made a statement renouncing terrorism, and the United States went on to deal with him in Mideast peace efforts.

But Bush, deciding that Arafat was corrupt and linked to persistent violence against Israel, cut him off, and did not invite him to the White House.

Rice is due to meet in London on Monday with U.N., Russian and European leaders as the so-called “Quartet” of would-be international peacemakers evaluates the results and tries to decide how to proceed with peacemaking efforts.

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