- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

President Bush yesterday said the U.S. will not deal with Hamas, the terrorist group that won Wednesday’s Palestinian elections, unless it renounces its goal of destroying Israel.

“A political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal,” the president said in a press conference. “People must renounce that part of their platform.”

He added, “You can’t be a partner in peace if your party has got an armed wing.”

The stunning victory by Hamas prompted the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, a member of the Fatah party. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, also a Fatah member, was asked by Mr. Bush to remain in office.

“We would hope he would stay in office and work to move the process forward,” the president told reporters in the James S. Brady press briefing room.

Mr. Abbas said he would not be deterred from implementing a U.S.-sponsored peace plan, known as the “road map,” which entails negotiations with Israel.

“I remain committed to implement the platform on which you voted for me one year ago,” he told Palestinians in a televised address. “The basis of this platform is negotiations and a peace settlement with Israel.”

The victory by Hamas, which won 76 of 132 seats in the parliament, was a setback to Mr. Bush’s stated goal of brokering a comprehensive peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis in his second term. Nonetheless, the president was philosophical about the election results, suggesting that voters were more interested in getting rid of the existing corruption than embracing terrorism.

“It’s a wake-up call to the leadership,” Mr. Bush said. “People were not happy with the status quo. The people are demanding honest government. The people want services. They want to be able to raise their children in an environment in which they can get a decent education and they can find health care.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a stern warning to Hamas, which has carried out scores of suicide bombings against Israelis.

“You cannot have one foot in politics and another in terror,” Miss Rice said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Our position on Hamas has therefore not changed.”

She added, “Palestinian people have apparently voted for change, but we believe their aspirations for peace and a peaceful life remain unchanged.”

Last year, Miss Rice told The Washington Times in an interview that participation in the political process could force terrorist groups like Hamas to moderate their policies.

“When people start getting elected and have to start worrying about constituencies and … not about whether their fire-breathing rhetoric against Israel is being heard, but about whether or not that person’s child down the street is able to go to a good school or that road has been fixed … then things start to change,” she said.

Yesterday, Mr. Bush sounded similarly optimistic.

“Peace is never dead, because people want peace,” he said. “The best hope for peace in the Middle East is two democracies living side by side.”

The Hamas win led Rep. Vito J. Fossella, New York Republican, to say he will introduce legislation to end all U.S. aid to a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas. Last year, the U.S. sent $275 million to Gaza and the West Bank, including $50 million directly to the Palestinian Authority.

“Not one dollar of taxpayer money should go to this terrorist organization,” Mr. Fossella said of Hamas. “The Palestinian people have every right to elect a terrorist organization to control their government — and the United States has every right to eliminate any financial assistance for it.”

Ehud Olmert, Israel’s acting prime minister, vowed not to work with Hamas.

“Should a government be established in the Palestinian Authority with Hamas leading or participating, the Palestinian Authority will become a sponsor of terror,” he said in an emergency meeting of the security Cabinet in Jerusalem.

“The world and Israel will ignore it, and it will become irrelevant,” he said.

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