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(photo credit: AP [file])
US President George W. Bush, in a special news conference at the White House, stressed that the US would not negotiate with Hamas, which it regards as a terror organization, though he would not spell out how the US is planning to deal with the future Palestinian Authority cabinet after the Hamas election victory.
"I've made it very clear that the United States does not support political parties that want to destroy our ally Israel, and that people must renounce that part of their platform," he said.
The US was caught by surprise by the results of the elections, and while the administration had estimated that Hamas would make significant gains, the working assumption was that Fatah would still be the major partner in the next PA cabinet.
The most difficult question facing the US administration now is how to deal with a cabinet comprised mostly of Hamas members and what to do about financial aid for the Palestinians.
Bush would not touch on these issues, saying that "we will watch very carefully the formation of the government."
The US hope is that Mahmoud Abbas will stay on as PA chairman and that the future cabinet will have also Fatah members, with whom the US can negotiate without breaking its own rule of not dealing with terrorists.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice led the US effort of trying to understand the new situation in the PA and to assess the administration's next steps. She phoned Abbas and expressed US support for his leadership. She also spoke to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and to representatives of the other members of the Quartet - Russia, the UN and the EU.
In a video address to the participants of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Rice said that "the Palestinian people have apparently voted for change, but we believe that their aspirations for peace and a peaceful life remain unchanged." She added that the US would not accept parties that have "one foot in politics and the other in terror."
The US administration sees the results of the elections not as a vote of no-confidence in the peace process, but rather as an expression of the Palestinians' frustration with their corrupt government.
"It's a wake-up call to the leadership. Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo," Bush said. "The elections should open the eyes of the old guard in the Palestinian territories."
He went on to call the elections a "healthy process" for Palestinian society.