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      Israeli About-Face: We Won´t Interfere if Hamas Terrorists Run

      The Sharon government, in a 180-degree turn, said it will not interfere if Hamas terrorists run in PA elections. PM Sharon said last month," We will never agree" to their participation.
      By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
      First Publish: 11/5/2005, 9:18 PM / Last Update: 11/4/2005, 12:41 PM

      Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz told Army Radio of the new Israeli policy following his meeting with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington on Wednesday.

      Mofaz repeated the American position that Hamas participation in the Palestinian Authority (PA) legislative elections scheduled for January is an internal PA issue. Last month, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Mofaz both said that Israel would actively interfere with the PA elections if Hamas fields candidates without first disarming. The Prime Minister stated Israel would set up roadblocks to prevent people from reaching polling stations.

      "We will never agree that this terrorist organization, this armed terrorist organization, will participate in the elections," Sharon was quoted in the Washington Post. "We will make every effort not to help them in their elections." Prime Minister Sharon made his statements following his speech in late September to the United Nations General Assembly, where he was congratulated by dozens of world leaders for carrying out the expulsion of Jewish residents from the Gaza and northern Samaria regions.

      Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said two weeks ago that Hamas' participation in the legislative elections would be a "stroke of insanity." A Foreign Ministry statement added, "The participation of Hamas in the PA elections would be nothing more than a bid by this group of Islamist extremists to seize power from moderate Palestinians who are interested in coexistence with Israel."

      Defense Minister Mofaz said Israel opposes Hamas' participation in elections because of its hard-line stance against Israel.

      His about-face reflects repeated statements by the State Department that though Hamas is an outlawed terrorist organization, its participation in PA elections is a "local" issue.

      Hamas has maintained backing of more than 25 percent of voters in polls and has claimed credit for the expulsion and the withdrawal of IDF forces. It also has proven itself to be more organized than the ruling Fatah party of PA leaders and provides social services for tens of thousands of Gazans.

      Brig.-Gen. Yair Golan, head of IDF forces in Judea and Samaria, offered reasoning that may be behind the government's sudden change of mind. "Let us not delude ourselves. We cannot run the politics of the Palestinians," he said recently in an interview with the Hebrew newspaper Ma'ariv. He added, "It may very well be that the feeling of persecution will bring Hamas more votes."