- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2003

JERICHO, West Bank — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, calling the Islamic militant group Hamas an “enemy of peace,” said yesterday it must not be allowed to participate in Palestinian political life even if it dismantles its military wing.

Palestinian leaders have suggested that Hamas may be offered a chance to take part in a broad unity government as an incentive to shut down its military arm, which has claimed responsibility for numerous deadly attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians over the years.

Even as Mr. Powell labored to keep the new U.S.-backed peace plan — known as the “road map” — alive, a Jewish settler was killed and three persons wounded when Palestinian gunmen ambushed their car in the West Bank. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, in which two of the injured were elderly U.S. citizens.

Hours later, a Palestinian was gunned down by Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip, according to wire reports quoting medical sources.

Mr. Powell urged Israelis and Palestinians not to wait for a cease-fire with Hamas in order to reach an agreement on the transfer of security control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.

After meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, during a one-day visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Jericho, Mr. Powell issued a fresh plea that both sides grasp the first opportunity for a peace settlement in nearly three years despite a recent wave of violence that has left 29 Israelis and 40 Palestinians dead.

A week after President Bush called on the international community to cripple Hamas’ ability to carry out suicide attacks against Israelis, Mr. Powell ruled out any future for the group even if it transforms itself into a political party. It was among the strongest statements to date by a senior U.S. official about the future of Hamas.

“Anyone participating in public life … would be individuals and organizations that are firmly committed to democracy, to the rule of law, and not to terrorism,” Mr. Powell said at a press conference with Mr. Abbas.

“Right now, Hamas is clinging to terror and celebrates the terrorist attacks we are seeing. And it is no longer possible to separate one part of Hamas from another part of Hamas,” he said.

“The enemy of peace has been Hamas, especially over the last two weeks,” Mr. Powell said at a press conference with Mr. Sharon. “As long as they have … a commitment to terror and violence and a desire to destroy the state of Israel, I think this is a problem we have to deal with in its entirety.”

Senior Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who was wounded in an Israeli missile strike in Gaza last week, issued a quick response: “Colin Powell proved that he is a real slave to the Zionists, a liar and a hypocrite.”

Although Mr. Powell said that he and Mr. Abbas were on the same page, his Palestinian host would not close the door to Hamas’ participation in political life.

“I said to all Palestinian organizations that they can practice their political life and their political convictions democratically,” he said. “There should be a sole Palestinian Authority and one law and plurality and political parties based on democracy, clear democracy. This is what we said to Hamas and to others, and we have said to all our citizens.”

Mr. Sharon flatly rejected the possibility that Hamas would change its ways even if it became a mainstream political party.

“Terrorist entities have to be fought; they have to be disarmed; they have to be put to justice; they have to be punished,” he said. “We have to make sure that they do not exist anymore.”

But Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, talking to reporters after Mr. Powell’s meeting with Mr. Abbas, said angrily that what happens to Hamas “is none of Israel’s business.”

“Israel has one business,” Mr. Shaath said. “If they respect the road map and stop all violence, they will get Palestinian respect of the road map and a stop to the violence.”

Mr. Powell also lashed out at Syria for failing to keep its promise to go after the activities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group, in Damascus.

“They took some limited steps,” he said in reference to Syria’s initial closing of those organizations’ offices. But “those limited steps are totally inadequate. We have gone back to the Syrians to let them know that we find their actions inadequate. We will continue to press them.”

While there were no breakthroughs yesterday, a senior State Department official told reporters traveling with the secretary that Mr. Powell had succeeded in establishing “a sense of direction” and getting Israeli and Palestinian leaders to “focus on the next steps” in the road map.

Speaking of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on transfer of security control in Gaza and the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Mr. Powell said such a move would be “a very, very powerful and important first step” after the June 4 summit in Aqaba, Jordan, with Mr. Bush, Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas.

Although a cease-fire with Hamas would be welcome, the two sides should not put a Gaza security arrangement on hold until a deal is reached, the secretary said.

“We should not in any way hold that activity hostage to what might or what might not be happening in the cease-fire … discussions,” he said. “Even if those discussions prove fruitful, we really have to get to a point … where the only one with guns and military force in any nation has to be the government under legal control.”

The secretary flew to Jerusalem by helicopter from across the Dead Sea in Jordan, where he is attending a meeting of the World Economic Forum on the weekend.

Before he speaks at the event tomorrow, he is scheduled to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. They are all members of the so-called Quartet for Middle East peace, which drafted the road map in December.

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