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 Saturday, January 28, 2006

Double Standards: Unease and Conditional Acceptance of Western-styled Democracy for Middle East

  Read here original article by JOHN LEICESTER, Associated Press Writer

HAMAS won seemingly fair-and-square at the ballot box. The group was listed as a terrorist organization and this compounded the dilemma for foreign governments.

(Note: Compare to international response to Israel's election when the right-wing Likud led by Ariel Sharon won. The Likud Government had resulted in more casualties in terror-related attacks on the Palestinians over the last 5 years. Read here for more)

World leaders, uneasy at the prospect of a Hamas-led Palestinian government, immediately exerted pressure on the Islamic militants Thursday to recognize Israel and renounce violence as a precondition for support.

While they welcomed the smooth running of the Palestinian legislative elections, the militants' stunning showing also unsettled many and threw Middle East peacemaking into turmoil.

"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?"

European governments and the United States presented a united front — insisting that Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist — and planned meetings to coordinate their response.

A senior European Parliament lawmaker, Elmar Brok, warned of a possible cutoff of European Union aid for the Palestinians if Hamas does not change its policies.

"You cannot have one foot in politics and another in terror," said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, adding that for the United States, Hamas is still a terrorist organization.

"The whole of the international community has the responsibility to accept the outcome of any fair and democratic election," said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. "But in this case Hamas has a clear responsibility to understand that with democracy goes a rejection of violence."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman was blunt: "We can only do business with people who renounce terrorism," he said.

Concern crossed political divides, with traditional supporters of the Palestinian cause — such as Italy's center-left opposition — among those expressing concern.

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," Italian news agencies quoted Premier Silvio Berlusconi as saying.

Rice was due to meet in London on Monday with U.N., Russian and European leaders as the so-called "Quartet" evaluates the election results and tries to decide how to proceed with peacemaking efforts.

EU foreign ministers meeting Monday also will discuss the 25-nation bloc's response.

In the Arab and Islamic worlds, some were jubilant. Hamas' win topped the news on state-run radio in Iran — which is accused by Israel and the United States of supplying Hamas and other Palestinian militants with weapons and funding.

"This is a victory to all the region's free people," said Ayyoub Muhanna, a 29-year-old who owns a spare parts shop in Lebanon. "The Palestinians gave their vote to the party that gave of its blood."

In Pakistan, a lawmaker from the hard-line Islamic opposition said Israel and the United States would be enemies of democracy if they refused to negotiate with a Hamas-led government.

An Islamic leader in Indonesia said Hamas' win must be recognized as an expression of Palestinian aspirations.

"Hamas' victory heralds a change in the entire region. This symbolizes that Islamic groups are getting successful," said the Pakistani lawmaker, Liaqat Baluch.

Japan hailed the successful holding of elections as "an important step toward building a democratic Palestinian state" but also said it expects the Palestinian Authority "to control the extremists" and work for peace.

Israel, the United States and the European Union have said they would not deal with a government led by Hamas, which has carried out dozens of suicide bombings, seeks Israel's destruction and has said that it opposes peace talks and will not disarm.

Sweden's foreign minister, Laila Freivalds, said Hamas' showing was "a protest against those in power who have not done enough, a reaction to the incapacity to lead the political process forward."

But she said the 25-nation EU cannot cooperate with Hamas unless it changes its policies.

In France, the prime minister said renouncing violence, accepting progress toward peace, recognizing Israel and the Oslo peace accords were "indispensable" conditions for working with "a Palestinian government of any kind."

"These (election) results may confront us with an entirely new situation which will need to be analyzed," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The EU has given millions of euros (dollars) 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.

"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 European Parliament. "But we cannot push for democracy and then deny the result of free and fair elections."

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