- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

During his visit to the United Nations last month where he declared that Israel has no desire to rule over the Palestinians and was feted for withdrawing from Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made clear that his willingness to compromise with the Palestinian Authority has commonsense limits. Specifically, he said that Israel will not be complicit if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insists on turning the process into farce by permitting the terrorist organization Hamas to participate in January’s elections in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Bush administration and the European Union, by contrast, have been sending mixed signals on the question. Early last month, the National Security Council said that “We do not believe that, in the end, a democratic state can be built when parties or candidates seek power not only through the ballot but through terrorist activities as well.” On Sept. 20, however, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put forward a somewhat softer formulation. While noting that there is a “fundamental contradiction” between Hamas’s violent nature and its participation in an election, she appeared to suggestthatWashingtonmightbe understanding if the PA decides to include Hamas: “We understand that the Palestinian political system is transition towards a democratic system and that has to be a Palestinian process. I think we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their democratic process.” Ten days later, she went back toward a tougher line.

Washington’s appearing to waver will reinforce the European Union’s tendency to tilt toward the Arabs. This has the potential to create a large political problem for Mr. Sharon — the very party, indeed the only party, who has made an enormous unilateral concession in order to facilitate peace.

In Gaza, where Israel ended its 38-year occupation last month, the Palestinian Authority is sovereign, and Israel has no role in determining who can run for office. It is a very different situation in the West Bank, where it remains the ruling authority. Mr. Sharon says that so long as Hamas remains a terrorist group committed to Israel’s destruction he will not facilitate elections in which Hamas participates, such as allowing its candidates freedom of movement throughout the West Bank during the balloting.

Mr. Sharon is right to stand firm on this critical issue, and he deserves Washington’s support. Following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas has continued firing rockets into neighboring Israeli towns and has vowed to continue killing Jews and working for Israel’s destruction. “Zionist occupiers,” Hamas boss Mahmoud al-Zahar declared at a Sept. 13 rally in Gaza. “We will win in Jerusalem and in Palestine, the whole of Palestine.” The crowds cheered. Jeeps paraded by with gunmen and rockets. Palestinians were obliged “to continue the liberation journey until the flag of Islam is raised over Jerusalem,” he said, and “this land should not have any Zionists in it.”

In a Sept. 29 interview with WorldNetDaily.com, Hamas senior spokesman Sami Abu Zahri taunted Israel, pointing to its continuing vulnerability to rocket attacks. Hamas has, in fact, fired several dozen into Israel since it withdrew from Gaza. He warned that Hamas would continue to kidnap Israeli citizens. The was just days after Hamas distributed a video of its operatives interrogating kidnapped Israeli merchant Sasson Nuriel prior to stabbing him to death. Other Hamas operatives boast that they are working to replicate its “success” in firing short-range Qassam rockets into Israel from Gaza by developing the capability to stage similar attacks from the West Bank. Israel announced last week that it had uncovered Hamas terrorist cells near Hebron and Ramallah.

Given Hamas’s continued menacing behavior, neither Washington nor the European Union are under any obligation to facilitate its participation in the elections. Indeed, under Annex II, Article III of the Oslo II peace agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 1995, candidates and parties are barred from participating in elections if they “commit or advocate racism or pursue the implementation of their aims by unlawful or non-democratic means.” This clearly applies to Hamas, which says in Article 28 of its charter that: “Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and Muslims.”

An analysis by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy documents in great detail how, following the defeat of Nazism, European nations have banned racist political parties. Belgium, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy all have provisions in their laws banning neo-Nazi, fascist and other racist parties. Earlier this year, Dominique de Villepin, as the French interior minister, broke up 20 neo-Nazi parties.

There is ample authority in law and precedent to support a principled decision by the United States and its European allies to press Mr. Abbas to exclude Hamas, and failing that, to support a decision by Israel to prevent them from operating in the West Bank.

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