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(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas on Saturday rejected threats by the US House of Representatives to cut off financial aid to the Palestinians if Hamas is permitted to participate in next month's parliamentary elections.
The resolution, taken on Friday, calls on the PA to set criteria for the participation of Hamas and other terrorist groups in the elections for the parliament and warns 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 Hamas and other groups 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.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, urged the White House and the rest of the world not to endorse the position of the Congress.
"We call on the international community to impose pressure on the US administration and prevent it from complying with the decisions of the House of Representatives as this does not serve the peace process nor the US efforts to maintain peace in the area," he said. "The legislative elections will be held on time and all Palestinian parties have the right to participate in them. Otherwise, the elections wouldn't be democratic."
"We categorically reject this decision," PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters in Ramallah. "These are Palestinian elections and everyone should respect the democratic choice of the Palestinian people."
Erekat said that the PA's electoral law allows anyone above the age of 18 to run or vote in the elections, scheduled for January 25. "On the other hand," he added, "We have a law that forbids the use of weapons and incitement in mosques and churches. We reject the Israeli and American position and stress that the elections will be held on time."
Erekat pointed out that the US did not try to exclude any party from running in last week's elections in Iraq. "The elections in Iraq were a democratic choice and that's how they should be in Palestine," he added. Commenting on Hamas's victory in last week's municipal vote,
Erekat said the PA will respect the results which, he added, "enhance Palestinian democracy."
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri also dismissed the US threats as an attempt to intervene in the internal affairs of the Palestinians. "We reject any American and external intervention in the Palestinian elections because this is an internal affair," he said.
Abu Zuhri said the US position was in violation of the values of democracy, which allow all citizens to express their opinion and vote freely. He said he believed the threats were in response to the latest Hamas victories in municipal elections
Said Siam, a top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said the US position was evidence of Washington's "continued bias" to Israel.
"The US administrations have been totally biased towards the Israeli occupation authorities for many years," he argued. "The elections are an inter-Palestinian case. The Americans don't have the right to intervene in this democratic process or in other internal affairs. We have the right to participate in the Palestinian elections and government, and nothing will stop us."
Although they did not come as a surprise, the latest Hamas victories have stunned supporters of the rival Fatah party. Hamas candidates won 13 seats out of 15 in the traditional Fatah stronghold of Nablus. In Jenin, Hamas won eight seats and Fatah won seven. In al-Bireh, the twin city of Ramallah, Hamas won nine seats as opposed to four for Fatah.
Hafez Barghouti, editor of the PA's daily al-Hayat al- Jadeeda, said on Saturday that he did not rule out the possibility that Hamas would win the parliamentary elections.
"Although Hamas has never dreamt of achieving a majority in parliament, the crisis in Fatah has paved the way for it to fulfill its dream," he said. "Will Hamas be able to run the affairs of the Palestinians, attract foreign aid and negotiate with Israel, or will it deprive the Palestinians of all this?"
Barghouti, who supports postponing the parliamentary elections, said that holding the vote under the current circumstances would bring "total damage" to the Palestinians. However, he added, postponing the elections would also bring total damage. "The wise and rational people must find a solution to this dilemma," he stressed.
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