Bush, Rice say Palestinian elections show "power of democracy"
By Stephen Kaufman, Washington File White House Correspondent
Washington - President Bush said the results of the January 25 Palestinian parliamentary elections present a "wake-up call" to the incumbent Fatah party leadership, reflecting voter dissatisfaction and a desire for change. However, he said HAMAS, which appears set to assume a clear majority in the 132-seat legislature, cannot be a "partner in peace" if its platform calls for the destruction of Israel.
The parliamentary elections mark the first time HAMAS has participated in national elections. Previously, the party has only fielded candidates in municipal elections. If preliminary indications are confirmed, HAMAS is set to end Fatah's domination of the legislature, which it has enjoyed since the previous parliamentary elections in 1996.
Speaking January 26 at a White House press conference, President Bush noted the high voter turnout and said the results "remind me about the power of democracy."
"Obviously, 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. And so the elections should open the eyes of the old guard there in the Palestinian territories," he said.
The president said he welcomes the competition of ideas as signs of a healthy democratic system, but he expressed doubts that HAMAS can be a "partner in peace" if it adheres to its political platform calling for the destruction of Israel and maintains its armed wing.
"We will watch very carefully about the formation of the government," Bush said, but I will continue to remind people about what I just said, that if your platform is the destruction of Israel, it means you're not a partner in peace, and we're interested in peace."
The president restated U.S. policy that "a political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal."
Bush also said he hoped Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas would remain in office.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered congratulations to President Abbas and the Palestinian people, and said, "Whenever you have 80 percent of the Palestinian people turn out in a free and fair election, one that is free of violence, it has to be a cause for hope."
In her videoconference remarks to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, she said the Palestinians "have apparently voted for change but we believe that their aspirations for peace and a peaceful life remain unchanged."
Rice said the Palestinians had endured governance "that was by all accounts not meeting their needs," particularly under the leadership of former President Yasser Arafat, which she said was "terribly corrupt."
But the secretary said the aspirations of the Palestinian people "can only be met through a two-state solution, which requires a renunciation of violence and turning away from terrorism, and accepting the right of Israel to exist, and the disarmament of militias."
The U.S. position on HAMAS has "not changed," she said. "[Y]ou cannot have one foot in politics and the other in terror."
Rice also called upon both the Palestinians and the international community to "speak clearly and truly" to the principles of democracy, which she said is incompatible with terrorism and wanton violence. "[D]emocracy brings not just rights, but it brings obligations and responsibilities, too," she said.
Rice said she spoke to President Abbas, as well as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and others to "share views on the way forward." She also said that a meeting of the Quartet (the United Nations, Russia, the European Union and the United States) will be held soon to discuss the Middle East road map for peace.
Rice's statement on the Palestinian elections is available on the State Department Web site. A transcript of the Bush press conference is available on the White House Web site.