Da Ha'aretz del 21/10/2005
Originale su http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/636147.html

U.S. won't oppose Hamas participation in the PA poll

di Arnon Regular, Shmuel Rosner

WASHINGTON - The United States will not actively oppose Hamas' participation in the Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections, Palestinian officials said following U.S. President George Bush's meeting with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday.

Even before the White House meeting, American officials said that while Washington objects in principle to allowing an armed organization run in the elections, the final decision rests with the PA. And while Bush raised the issue of disarming Hamas prior to elections at Thursday's meeting, he did not dwell on it or pressure Abbas, Palestinian sources said. He also did not mention the issue during a joint press conference with Abbas following the meeting. American officials explained that Bush believes there is no advantage to staging a frontal confrontation with Abbas a few months prior to the January elections.

Abbas reiterated after the meeting that he has no intention of barring any Palestinian faction from running, since he believes it would be counterproductive. The correct strategy, he said, is to maintain quiet on the security front and move forward on the road map. At the press conference, he said this strategy is working as evidenced by the armed organizations' consent to a cease-fire and, more recently, a ban on carrying weapons in public places. Only a new, democratically elected legislature, he argued, will have the legitimacy needed to finally disarm the militias.

Bush stressed at the press conference that "the way forward must begin by confronting the threat that armed gangs pose to a genuinely democratic Palestine." The PA, he said, must "earn the confidence of its neighbors by rejecting and fighting terrorism."

Abbas responded that the PA has already taken steps to impose law and order in the territories, and complained that Israel has not fulfilled its responsibilities under the road map, since it has not frozen construction in the settlements, stopped building the separation fence, or removed roadblocks that interfere with Palestinian movement in the West Bank. Bush agreed that Israel "must remove unauthorized [out]posts and stop settlement expansion."

Bush also stressed that he has no intention of setting a rigid timetable for the establishment of a Palestinian state. He said that he continues to adhere to his vision of two states living side by side in peace, and believes that today, the Palestinians are "closer to realizing" this goal, but declined to promise that statehood would happen before the end of his term.

"I believe that two democratic states living side by side in peace is possible," he said. "I can't tell you when it's going to happen... If it happens before I get out of office, I'll be there to witness the ceremony. And if it hadn't - if it doesn't, we will work hard to lay that foundation so that the process becomes irreversible."

Senior Palestinian officials expressed satisfaction with the results of Thursday's meeting. They listed several positive elements of Bush's remarks, including his commitment to work for Gaza's economic rehabilitation, his demand that Israel evacuate illegal outposts and freeze settlement construction, his warning to Israel not to do anything that "contravenes its road map obligations," his demand that Israel take steps to improve Palestinians' daily lives, and his statement that the separation fence "must be a security barrier, rather than a political barrier." They also expressed hope that the U.S. would stop Israel from impeding the PA elections, which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has threatened to do if Hamas participates.

However, they were disappointed by Bush's failure to lay down a timetable for Palestinian statehood or promise that it would occur by the end of his term.

Israeli officials also claimed to be moderately satisfied with the meeting's results, saying that Bush clearly put most of the responsibility for progress on the Palestinians.

Sharon's office insisted that there is no real disagreement with Washington over Hamas' participation in the PA elections - although other Israeli officials disputed this. According to his office, Sharon's position continues to be that Israel will not facilitate the elections if Hamas runs.

Sharon's office also dismissed the president's demands and criticisms of Israel. "Bush didn't say anything new," said one official. "He repeated old formulations regarding the road map and our obligations... There were no surprises in Bush's remarks. The pressure continues to be on the Palestinians to fight terror as a first step."

The fact that Bush voiced no criticism of Israel's military responses to terror since the disengagement was also an achievement, Sharon's staff said. "The Americans accept the fact that because of the disengagement, we are entitled to respond to terror much more harshly," said one senior government official.

But officials who are not part of Sharon's inner circle were less sanguine, saying that the U.S. administration has been sending increasingly unhappy messages to Jerusalem, recently complaining that Israel is not doing enough to strengthen Abbas. "It's too bad that Sharon's office isn't listening to Bush's words, and is trying to paint the entire picture in rosy colors," said one member of the diplomatic community.

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