Palestinian Elections, Who's Allowed to Run, and U.S. Policy

Robert Satloff (New Republic) - * Why do Palestinians not want the world to recognize the Israeli withdrawal for what it is? Because that means Israel would no longer be in the international dock and the Palestinian Authority would then have to take responsibility for what happens inside Gaza. The PA would be responsible for stopping the launch of rockets from Gaza into Israel, the dispatch of suicide bombers to Israel, and the import of drugs, weapons, and other contraband from Gaza into Israel (or the West Bank). The Palestinian leadership seems to prefer continued grievance to accepting responsibility. * Apparently, Abbas believes one can contest a democratic election when one party parades through the streets with AK-47s and suicide belts; apparently, he thinks Hamas is likely to give up all its weapons after it uses them to bully voters; apparently, he thinks that Hamasniks will becomes peaceniks once they receive the legitimacy of a popular mandate. Well, it's a plan - naive, perhaps; short-sighted, maybe - but it's a plan. If he wants to give it a try, it's his neck. * The problem is that the world wants Israel to be an accessory to this madness. Last week, Ariel Sharon told the world from the UN summit in New York that Israel would not play the stooge. Specifically, he said Israel would not remove West Bank roadblocks and provide the sort of freedom of movement through the West Bank necessary to facilitate an election if Hamas was allowed to participate. * Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel to help the PA hold West Bank elections, with full Hamas participation. "This is going to be a Palestinian process and I think we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process," she said. * This is bad policy. If the U.S. has an interest in developing a functioning and responsible government in Gaza, as President Bush has stated, then it should be taking opportunities to differentiate between Gaza and the West Bank, not blurring the distinction between the two. Moreover, if it wants to strengthen Abbas's hand in moving toward the disarmament of militias, it should demand full disarmament now, as a precondition for participation in any electoral process, not wait for a moment that is unlikely ever to come. And morally, to ask Israel to facilitate an electoral process that could result in the empowerment of one of its most potent and violent enemies is truly indefensible. * The best way to resolve this is to declare that the U.S. will not consider Palestinian elections legitimate unless the PA requires all participating parties to meet the demands that Washington had of the PLO for so many years, i.e., that it renounce terror and violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. * Arguing in favor of Hamas's inclusion in West Bank elections without any change in the group's behavior - or any requirement that the PA demand such a change - leaves the administration in an especially awkward position. When asked during her June 2005 visit to Cairo whether the U.S. supports the political participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt - a group that professes non-violence and is not on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations - Rice deferred to local Egyptian law, which bans the organization. However, in the Palestinian case, the U.S. is siding with those who would legitimize the political ambitions of a terrorist group - recognized as such under U.S. law - against the wishes of the ally (Israel) who is responsible for security in the area. The writer is executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

2005-09-23 00:00:00

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