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(photo credit: AP)
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom labeled as "very important" a decision Friday by the US House of Representatives that the Palestinian Authority risks losing US financial aid and other support if it permits Hamas to participate in the Palestinian elections .
"The participation of Hamas in the elections can put us back 50 years," Shalom told Israel Radio. "Today is the time to make the difficult decision, the strategic decision, to dismantle the terror infrastructure, to go to elections with the intent of afterward going to peace with Israel."
A large majority of 397 members of the House supported the resolution and only 17 opposed it. Supporters came from both parties.
House Resolution 575, calls on the Palestinian Authority to set criteria for the participation of Hamas and other terrorist groups in the elections for the Palestinian parliament and warns the PA of possible repercussions if it does not make sure Hamas obeys to these conditions before the elections.
The conditions set out by Congress for participation in the Palestinian elections require the Hamas, or any other group, to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, to stop terrorism and condemn the use of violence, to stop incitement and to dismantle their terror infrastructure.
The House resolution, which was co-sponsored by members of both parties, is intended to send a message to the Palestinian Authority that while the administration might turn a blind eye to allowing Hamas participation in the elections, the congress does not see such action as acceptable. This is especially important for the PA, since any request for financial aid to the Palestinian must go through congress and gain the approval of both houses.
The US administration did not support the resolution since it holds a different view of the Hamas question. Officials have said in the past months that though they view the Hamas as a terror group and do not think such a group should be part of the democratic process, the administration does not think it would be wise to pressure Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to take action against the Hamas before the elections.
Hours before the House began the debate on the resolution, Israeli ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon put out a statement in which he declares unequivocally that Israel opposes Hamas' participation in the Palestinian elections.
"The participation of a terrorist organization in elections contradicts the basic principals of democracy and the rule of law. Hamas has not yet begun to disarm and has made clear that it has no intention of doing so", Ayalon said in his statement.
The need for such a statement from Israel's top diplomat in Washington was raised after members of Congress and pro-Israel advocates on Capitol Hill said that the Israeli stand on this issue is ambiguous, after PM Sharon first said that Israel would prevent Hamas from participating in the elections and then clarified that Israel will take no action to stop Hamas members from runing for parliament.
The Israeli standpoint, as declared by Ayalon, makes clear that Israel opposes the Hamas participation, but does not mention any action that Israel might take to enforce this stand.
The pro-Israel lobby in Washington (AIPAC) who worked behind the scenes to garner support for the resolution issued a statement Friday praising the resolution and calling on the PA to take immediate action to prevent the Hamas from participating in the elections.
"As Congress has once again made clear, this is the time for President Abbas and the PA to step up and prove they are committed to building a peaceful, democratic state alongside Israel, for the sake of both Palestinians and Israelis", said the AIPAC statement.