State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack, at his official Daily Press Briefing on Thursday, said clearly that Palestinian politics is exclusively up to the "Palestinian people."

At the same time, McCormack emphasized that the American and Quartet position has not changed regarding "terrorist organizations operating outside of the rule of law" - though he did not elaborate. He said that in the view of the U.S., "Hamas is a terrorist organization."

However, McCormack added in a lengthy explanation, "It is also the case that how the Palestinian political process unfolds and evolves is a question for the Palestinian people. And I think that President Abbas is at the forefront, saying that there can only be one rule, one gun and one authority. And you heard he and President Bush speak just a short while ago ... about the fact that President Abbas was elected on a platform of bringing peace and security to the Palestinian people. And we are working with him and other members of the Palestinian Authority to see that the Palestinian Authority is able to live up to its obligations under the roadmap. Those obligations are that they not only have to stop acts of terrorism and violence, but they have to act to dismantle terrorist groups."

McCormack praised a recent Palestinian Authority law that forbids "armed displays in mass demonstrations," indicating that this could soften the damage done by Hamas' participation in the elections.

U.S. President George Bush hosted Abbas in Washington on Thursday. PA sources said afterwards that though Bush raised the matter of disarming Hamas, he did not dwell on it or pressure Abbas on this matter. Neither did he mention the issue during a joint press conference with Abbas after the meeting.

Both the U.S. and Abbas seem to prefer pushing off a clash with Hamas until an unspecified later date. American officials explained that Bush believes there is no

advantage to staging a frontal confrontation with Abbas just a few months prior

to the January elections, Haaretz reported.

Abbas, too, said he has no intention of barring any Palestinian faction from running, explaining this would be "counterproductive." He said that the "consent" of Hamas and other terrorist organizations to maintain a period of no attacks is proof that there is no need for a clash at present. Abbas believes that only the new democratically elected legislature will have the necessary legitimacy to disarm terrorist organizations.

In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, former Deputy Defense Minister, Ephraim Sneh of the Labor Party wrote that three facts about Hamas must be remembered:

"First, the aim of the Hamas movement is not the end of Israeli occupation, nor is it the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Hamas' aim is to take over Palestinian society and impose Islamist rule. For this reason, Hamas poses a greater threat to Palestinian secular parties than it does to Israel.

"Second, Hamas is not just a terrorist organization. It is a movement supported by many in Palestinian society, though still a minority, as the recent Palestinian municipal elections proved...

"Third, even if Hamas does win many seats in the Palestinian parliament, it will not cease to be a terrorist organization. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that government responsibility will lead to Hamas' self-moderation. With this type of radical Islamist movement, there is no distinction between armed and political actions, which serve the same goal. At the core of this movement is a terrorist ideology that denies the rights of another people and coerces an entire society into a fundamentalist Muslim lifestyle. Whenever it serves its cause, Hamas will use terrorism against Israel and the Palestinian government.

"Anyone who wishes for Israeli-Palestinian peace and a democratic Palestinian state must also wish for the downfall of Hamas."