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Foreign governments stunned at Hamas victory

Western powers warned on Thursday that they would not deal with a Palestinian government led by Hamas  unless it renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
Palestinian Hamas supporters celebrate their landslide victory in parliamentary elections in the West Bank City of Nablus on Thursday.
Palestinian Hamas supporters celebrate their landslide victory in parliamentary elections in the West Bank City of Nablus on Thursday.Nasser Ishtayeh / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Western powers warned on Thursday that they would not deal with a Palestinian government led by Hamas — regarded as terrorists by the EU and the United States — unless it renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.

“The United States does not support political parties that want to destroy our ally Israel,” U.S. President Bush said after Hamas won a landslide election victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections. “People must renounce that part of their platform.”

That Hamas had won so overwhelmingly and fairly — former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said the elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were “completely honest” — only compounded the dilemma for foreign governments.

They both hailed the smooth vote, and expressed dismay at Hamas’ taking nearly two-thirds of the 132 parliament seats.

The militant group has carried out dozens of suicide bombings, seeks Israel’s destruction and has said that it opposes peace talks and will not disarm.

“We must respect the election result, although it was not the outcome we had wished,” said Denmark’s prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

In France, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said renouncing violence, accepting progress toward peace and recognizing Israel and existing peace accords were “indispensable” conditions for working with “a Palestinian government of any kind.”

Peace process interrupted
Hamas’ unexpected victory threw the future of the peace process between Palestinians and Israel into turmoil, and raised immediate questions about how the United States and other countries might still be able to influence the process— especially if they refused to deal with the militants.

“Hamas won,” said Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel. “Hamas is surely not a democratic movement. Its ideas are surely not humanistic ideas. What do we do now?”

There were calls from the Arab and Islamic worlds for Western governments to accept the result.

“One has to adjust to ground realities,” said Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

European governments and the United States planned meetings to coordinate their response. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was due to meet Monday in London with U.N., Russian and European officials.

“You cannot have one foot in politics and another in terror,” Rice said, adding that for the United States, Hamas was still a terrorist organization.

Concern crossed political divides, with traditional supporters of the Palestinian cause— such as Italy's center-left opposition— among those expressing worry. The Italian government said Hamas’ victory could indefinitely postpone any chance of Israeli-Palestinian peace and make the creation of a Palestinian state more difficult.

“It is a very, very, very bad result,” Premier Silvio Berlusconi said.

European Union warns of possible fund cutoff
European Union foreign ministers who meet Monday will discuss what to do, and German leader Angela Merkel will visit Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli leaders. Austria, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, issued a statement on behalf of the 25-nation bloc stating “there is no place in a political process for groups or individuals who advocate violence.”

“Of course, we recognize the mandate for Hamas because the people have spoken,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair said. “But I think it is also important for Hamas to understand that there comes a point, and that point is now following that strong showing, where they have to decide between a path of democracy or a path of violence.”

The EU has given millions of euros in aid to the Palestinian Authority to help reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank— funding that was called into question following Hamas’ win. A senior European Parliament lawmaker, Elmar Brok, warned of a possible cutoff of aid if Hamas did not change its policies.

“It is obvious that the EU would never countenance funding a regime that continued an armed fight against Israel,” said Ignasi Guardans, a Spanish member of the parliament. “But we cannot push for democracy and then deny the result of free and fair elections.”

Support from Muslim countries
At a summit of global leaders and business chiefs in Switzerland, the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan argued that Hamas should be given a chance to change.

“If the people of Palestine have expressed their will by voting for Hamas, we should respect it and give Hamas a chance to prove itself while in government,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Pakistan’s Musharraf said taking responsibility for the development and security of the Palestinians would challenge Hamas to change.

He said the world’s response should be: “Don’t shut the door on Hamas, let us evaluate what their attitudes are and let’s put pressure on them to behave in the right manner.

“An equal amount of pressure will have to be put on the other side, on Israel. While one accepts the reality of Israel, we have to accept the reality of the creation of a Palestinian homeland. And let’s give Hamas a chance.”