Rice: Palestinian elections were right policy


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Condoleezza Rice defended the U.S. decision to hold Palestinian elections in 2006, even though Hamas won.

"What is the alternative?" the former secretary of state asked, speaking at a fund-raiser for the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue here. "If you don’t start and give people a chance," then they aren’t going to buy into the process of building democratic institutions, she said.

Rice noted that politics was already "going on" in the West Bank and Gaza before the elections, pointing out that Hamas was better organized in the mosques and many Palestinians believed Fatah was corrupt.

"You don’t fix that by not having elections," she said. "I’m afraid we’re going to have to tolerate some elections" initially in the Islamic world in which the United States doesn’t like the result, she said, adding that while Islamists did well in the first set of elections in Iraq, they did not fare as well in the next round of voting.

The program featured a short speech by Rice and an hourlong dialogue, which included answering written audience questions, with Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic and a parent at the school.

Responding to Wieseltier’s question about "the T word," torture, Rice said the decision to use enhanced interrogation techniques on prisoners was "very hard" and that she believes it is an appropriate subject for debate. She emphasized that the decision must be seen "in the context of remembering the time."

"People of good will had the hardest possible dilemmas and choices," she said. "This was tough stuff."

Rice also said that she had misspoken last week when she was quoted as saying that since the president authorized the tactics, they were legal.

"What I meant to say is the president said, ‘I won’t authorize anything that is illegal,’ " which is why she said President Bush sought an opinion from the Justice Department and the attorney general on the matter.

Asked about how she dealt with the days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when she was serving as national security adviser, Rice said, "You tell yourselves you did what you could." But ultimately, she said, while you believe it in your head, "you don’t quite believe it in your heart" because "it happened on your watch."

Recommended from JTA