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(photo credit: AP [file])
A senior diplomatic official told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that Israel would likely pull troops back from West Bank cities and lift roadblocks during the elections.
According to the official, the foreign ministry's general position was that Israel should cooperate with the Palestinians in enabling them to carry out their legislative elections in the same manner done in January during the PA presidential elections.
At that time Israel pulled back troops and lifted roadblocks in order to facilitate the elections.
That Israel is likely to remove roadblocks and pull back troops on election day represents a change in the position Prime Minister Ariel Sharon charted during meetings with numerous world leaders and journalists in September at the United Nations.
Sharon at the time said that Israel was adamantly opposed to Hamas participation in the elections, and although it could not stop Hamas from participating in Gaza, it could impact on matters in the West Bank.
"We will make every effort not to help [the Palestinians]," Sharon told journalists at the time. "I don't think they can have elections without our help." He said that Israel might not remove roadblocks in the West Bank, making it difficult for Palestinians there to vote, if Hamas were to run.
This was part of a diplomatic campaign Israel started as far back as the Spring to keep Hamas from taking part in the elections unless the organization disarmed and revoked its 1988 charter calling for Israel's destruction.
However, both the United States and the European Union have called on Israel to help facilitate the upcoming elections, even though they have articulated their opposition to terrorist organizations taking part in the democratic process.
While saying that terrorist organizations and democracy don't work together, the US and EU have both pointedly stopped well short of Israel's position that Hamas should be bared from the elections.
The EU heads of government issued a statement following a meeting over the weekend urging Israel "to cooperate fully with the Palestinian Authority on the preparation and conduct of the elections, especially concerning freedom of movement for all candidates, election workers and voters, in particular in East Jerusalem."
The senior diplomatic official said that Israel's position remained that Hamas was a terrorist organization that had no place in a democratic process, and that if Hamas joined the PA government then both the Palestinians and the world should know that it would be a major setback to resuming a diplomatic process based on bilateral negotiations.
The implication was that in this scenario Israel might have to continue with further unilateral steps, the two best examples of unilateralism so far being the construction of the security fence and the disengagement from Gaza.
The official also made clear that while Israel may lift some roadblocks on Election Day, if the IDF encountered Hamas terrorists or suspected terrorists who showed up at a roadblock saying they were on their way to a political rally, they would be arrested.
The official acknowledged there was a great deal of international interest in seeing Israel facilitate free and open elections in January.
A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said that while Israel would not interfere with the elections, it would not do anything that that could possibly assist Hamas's participation.
"If we have to stop someone on the night of the elections who says he is running a campaign, we will do so" the official said. "We are also not going to remove roadblocks on the day of elections if we have intelligence information of a planned attack."