Israel Worried About Hamas Gaining Power in PA Election

Israel has begun to voice its concerns that the July legislative council elections in the Palestinian Authority might sweep radical Islamic terror organizations such as Hamas into power.

, | updated: 19:14

For the first time, Israel is demanding that Hamas disarm before taking part in the elections for the Palestinian legislative council, scheduled for July 17.

Up until now, Israel has refrained from any involvement in the upcoming PA elections, and has mostly refrained from attempting to block Hamas’ entry into electoral politics. But apprehension that Hamas might score big gains, or even attain a majority, have brought about an abrupt change in Israel’s approach.

Hamas and other Islamic terror groups such as Islamic Jihad are dedicated to destroying the Jewish state and replacing it with a radical Islamic regime.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon conveyed Israel’s position to visiting U.S. Senators Bill Frist and Joseph Lieberman. “It is inconceivable for an armed party to participate in the democratic process. From there it is impossible to move onto the road map,” explained Sharon.

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) released a strong statement in support of Israel's position on this matter. “Hamas must [also] abrogate their long-standing charter which calls for Israel’s ‘obliteration’ and murder of all Jews," the statement reads, "and stop their rallies claiming that the ‘armed struggle’ is the reason for their ‘victory’ in forcing Israel to evacuate the Jewish section of Gaza and remove its 9000 men, women, and children.”

ZOA President Morton A. Klein noted that Senator Frist's position on this issue was disappointing. Frist was asked at a press conference in Jerusalem on Monday whether disarming Hamas should be a pre-condition to participating in the elections, and simply answered, “The U.S. supports Hamas renouncing any aspect of terrorism, including the use of weapons.”

“Senator Frist should have made it crystal clear," Klein said, "that the U.S. is unequivocally against Hamas members running for office unless they disarm and abrogate their Nazi-like terrorist charter. Anything less shows a weakened resolve against terrorist groups that the U.S. must be committed to destroying.”

The issue was also raised by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in his meeting on Monday with Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, who heads the Islamic Party in Turkey. Shalom stressed that Hamas cannot run candidates for the Palestinian parliament while operating a military wing. “This is bad for everyone,” said Shalom.

Shalom expressed his worries that Hamas was on its way to becoming another Hizbullah, a terror group supported by Syria and Iran that is intimately involved in Lebanese domestic politics. Shalom told Egyptian officials two weeks ago, “We can’t allow [Hamas] to run in the elections and retain an independent military capability.”

Shalom recently reiterated these concerns to James Wolfensohn, economic envoy of the Quartet (representing the U.S., Europe, Russia, and the U.N.) that periodically makes Middle East mediation efforts. “If Hamas wants to become a political party, it must disarm,” he said.

Israel is worried that if Hamas adopts the Hizbullah model, mixing electoral politics with terror, the European Union might take the group off its terror list. The EU has removed Hizbullah from its list of terrorist organizations because Hizbullah also operates as a political party.

Another concern is that Hamas’ growing popularity among the PA electorate will cause Fatah, a rival PLO faction headed by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, to field more radical candidates. This would make compromise with Israel ever more difficult.

Fatah currently controls two-thirds of the PA council, but PA officials are afraid that Hamas could severely reduce that majority, if not eliminate it entirely.

Hamas boycotted the previous PA election held on 1996. Since the outbreak of the Oslo War in September 2000, Hamas has gained in popularity, especially in the Gaza district.

Competition among the parties is expected regarding the extent of their terrorist exploits during the Oslo War. One PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), will be fielding the murderer of Israeli Tourism Minister Rahavam Ze’evi as a candidate. Ahmed Saadat, who killed Ze’evi in a Jerusalem hotel in 2003, has been imprisoned in a PA jail in Jericho, guarded by American and British security officials in accordance with an agreement with Israel.

While Israel would almost certainly prefer a Fatah victory, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon found few kind words for Abbas in his meeting with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Republican). “His course is not the right one and contrary to the road map," Sharon said. "Instead of working to disarm the terror organizations, he is working to strengthen them. He is not willing to fight them and is not willing to dismantle their infrastructure."

According to the prime minister, "Abu Mazen is taking steps to preserve the quiet, but is refraining completely from taking significant steps against the terror organizations."