Rice stands firm on Palestinian elections


Over at JTA Election Central, we posted on Liz Cheney’s not so veiled swiped at the Bush-Rice policy of pressing for the Palestinian elections that culminated with a Hamas victory. Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo linked to our post, under the headline “All in the Family,” referring to Cheney’s vice-presidential dad.

Well, later in the week at the AIPAC conference, a Cheney family cousin (Barack something or other) also took a swipe at the Bush administration over the issue:

We must isolate Hamas unless and until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements. There is no room at the negotiating table for terrorist organizations. That is why I opposed holding elections in 2006 with Hamas on the ballot. The Israelis and the Palestinian Authority warned us at the time against holding these elections. But this Administration pressed ahead, and the result is a Gaza controlled by Hamas, with rockets raining down on Israel.

Rice is sticking to her guns. Here’s what she had to say about the topic in a recent essay that she wrote for Foreign Affairs:

When Hamas won elections in the Palestinian territories, it was widely seen as a failure of policy. But although this victory most certainly complicated affairs in the broader Middle East, in another way it helped to clarify matters. Hamas had significant power before those elections – largely the power to destroy. After the elections, Hamas also had to face real accountability for its use of power for the first time. This has enabled the Palestinian people, and the international community, to hold Hamas to the same basic standards of responsibility to which all governments should be held. Through its continued unwillingness to behave like a responsible regime rather than a violent movement, Hamas has demonstrated that it is wholly incapable of governing.

Much attention has been focused on Gaza, which Hamas holds hostage to its incompetent and brutal policies. But in other places, the Palestinians have held Hamas accountable. In the West Bank city of Qalqilya, for instance, where Hamas was elected in 2004, frustrated and fed-up Palestinians voted it out of office in the next election. If there can be a legitimate, effective, and democratic alternative to Hamas (something that Fatah has not yet been), people will likely choose it. This would especially be true if the Palestinians could live a normal life within their own state.

The participation of armed groups in elections is problematic. But the lesson is not that there should not be elections. Rather, there should be standards, like the ones to which the international community has held Hamas after the fact: you can be a terrorist group or you can be a political party, but you cannot be both. As difficult as this problem is, it cannot be the case that people are denied the right to vote just because the outcome might be unpleasant to us. Although we cannot know whether politics will ultimately deradicalize violent groups, we do know that excluding them from the political process grants them power without responsibility. This is yet another challenge that the leaders and the peoples of the broader Middle East must resolve as the region turns to democratic processes and institutions to resolve differences peacefully and without repression.

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