PRAGUE, 27 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Israeli leaders are ruling out talks with any government involving Hamas -- a group Israel considers a terrorist organization.
"To have a future of peace for Israel and the Palestinians, for our children and theirs, Hamas must be stopped," opposition Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu said in Jerusalem on 26 January. "Israel needs defensible boundaries and the Palestinian people should be told that they must abandon the policies of terror and the liquidation of Israel. If they do, there will be peace. If they don't, we will have to defend ourselves."
The United States and the European Union, which also consider Hamas a terrorist group, are also concerned. "Of course we recognize the mandate from Hamas, because the people have spoken in a particular way in the Palestinian Authority," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said during a visit to Dublin on 26 January. "But I think it is also important for Hamas to understand that there comes a point, and the point is now, following that strong showing, where they have to decide between a path of democracy or a path of violence."
U.S. President George W. Bush reacted similarly in Washington on 26 January. "I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform," he said. "And I know you can't be a partner in peace if your party has got an armed wing."
Both European and U.S. officials have previously said Hamas must renounce its stated aim of destroying Israel if it becomes part of a new Palestinian government. That suggests that if the group refuses to do so, the major Western powers might refuse to deal with Palestinian administration.
So far, Hamas has shown little sign that it worries about such Western reaction. "We are not going to sit down with anybody. But if anybody would like to listen from us, to understand what is our attitude, what are our trends, we are ready to discuss that with anybody. We have no objections," senior Hamas leader Mahmud al-Zahar said in an interview on 26 January with Reuters in Gaza City.
But al-Zahar indicated Hamas might take a more flexible attitude toward Palestinian leaders from other parties when it comes to discussions on forming a government.
"We are going to make contact personally with [Palestinian President] Mr. [Mahmud] Abbas and also we are going to make contacts with all the power [factions] in the new expected Legislative Council and also we are going to reconnect our relations with the families and the scholars inside the Palestinian society in order to reconstruct what was destroyed by the previous period," al-Zahar said.
Hamas has not said what would be on the negotiating table in talks with leaders like Abbas, who favor peace negotiations with Israel.
And the other political parties, too, have so far given little public indication of whether they would insist Hamas moderate its stance toward the peace process in exchange for cooperating, for example, in a coalition government.
So far, Palestinian President Abbas has said only that the next government could face some big challenges ahead. "The new government must work hard in order to win the world's confidence, in order to confront occupation and the [West Bank] wall, and to release our brave prisoners and to set up the independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital," Abbas said on 26 January in Ramallah, on the West Bank.
The Palestinian president has reaffirmed his commitment to peace negotiations with Israel despite the stunning victory by Hamas.
President Ahmadinejad visiting the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in October (Fars)
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