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West Dismayed by Hamas Win; Calls for Policy Change

DW staff (jam)January 26, 2006

There has been a chorus of Western dismay Thursday at the victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections. Leaders echoed warnings there could be no dealings with it unless the party stopped seeking the destruction of Israel.

Celebrating the victory of Hamas in parliamentary elections in the city of JeninImage: AP

"The international community will want Hamas to make a proper rejection of violence and to acknowledge that Israel exists," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in a reaction typical of European nations in the wake of the shock outcome of elections in the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas, the Islamic militant group, swept to victory over the long-dominant Fatah party on Thursday in Palestinian parliamentary polls. It is a political earthquake that could bury any hope for reviving peace talks with Israel soon.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the election result "may confront us with an entirely new situation, which will need to be analyzed by (EU foreign ministers) next Monday."

Austria, currently president of the EU, said it would judge the new government by the contribution it made to the peace process, the recognition of Israel and the "two state" principle leading to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Wahlen in Palästina Hamas Reaktionen
Outside a polling station in Gaza CityImage: AP

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged Hamas to reject violence and recognize Israel, as did his counterparts in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin expressed "concern" and said he hoped the "conditions which are indispensable for working with whatever Palestinian government can be fulfilled."

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared, "If this result is confirmed, then everything we had hoped for -- to open a window to peace between Israel and Palestine -- has been put back until who knows when."

US dismay

"The United States does not support a political party that wants to destroy our ally Israel," US President George W. Bush said during a White House news conference.

"People must renounce that part of their platform. A political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal."

Wahlen in Palästina Machmud Abbas
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud AbbasImage: AP

Bush said that he would like to see Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas remain in office, despite the defeat of his Fatah movement in the Palestinian elections.

The United States remains opposed to Hamas but is convinced the Palestinian people still want peace despite its victory, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

"The Palestinian people have apparently voted for change but we believe that their aspirations for peace and a peaceful life remain unchanged," the chief US diplomat said in a statement read at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Hamas, which has spearheaded a deadly string of attacks against Israel since its foundation in the late 1980s, claimed victory after taking part Wednesday in its first Palestinian general election.

Emergency meeting in Israel

Israel's acting leader Ehud Olmert was to convene an emergency security meeting Thursday to discuss the ramifications of the Hamas win. Israel has already warned that a Hamas victory would ensure the peace process remains frozen.

Israel called on the European Union on Thursday to take a firm stance against the establishment of what it called a "terrorist government."

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni issued the appeal to the European Union, the biggest donors to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, after meeting EU officials following

Hamas' upset victory over the long-dominant Fatah party.

Wahlen in Palästina Hamas Reaktionen
The future of the Middle East stability is even less certain today than it was yesterdayImage: AP

Russia was more circumspect in its reaction. Hamas should "speak in favor of a peaceful settlement and, as a result, of the creation of an independent Palestinian state that would live in peace with Israel," Russia's special envoy to the Middle East, Alexander Kalugin, was quoted by news agencies as saying.

Iran issued an unqualified statement of congratulations. "In voting for Hamas, the Palestinians have chosen resistance" to Israeli occupation, the foreign ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Assefi, said in a statement.

And Algerian Foreign Minister Mohamen Bedjaoui called on the West not to be too quick to pass judgment on Hamas.

"In the western world there is fear that Hamas is radical but make no mistake about it, there are always groups that are even more radical, and the best way to combat radicalism is quite simply to start negotiations as soon as possible," Bedjaoui said after a meeting with his Dutch counterpart Ben Bot in the Hague.

"It is when we sit at the negotiating table, when we talk, that we are not fighting, that no terrorist acts are committed," the Algerian minister said, calling on the Palestinian and Israeli authorities to get back to the negotiating table with the support of the international community.