As a matter of policy—and rhetoric—the United States is for democracy and
against terrorism. But what happens when other people blur the lines
between what the Bush Administration considers to be these two polar opposites?
That was the question that faced U.S. State
Department spokesman Richard Boucher at his regular briefing for the media
on Friday, Jan 28. The following exchange between the media and Boucher
over the meaning of the recent municipal elections in Gaza
is taken directly from the transcript of that briefing:
QUESTION: Richard, yesterday there was -- I think you mentioned it late yesterday -- a vote in Gaza for municipal elections, and apparently Hamas has swept those elections. How do you then deal with -- well, it's not at the national level, but how do you begin to deal with that entity if you still maintain they are a terrorist organization? They are also a political organization.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we view them as a terrorist organization. We continue to view Hamas as a terrorist organization.
I think what I would say about these elections is that it's not really about the results, it's about the process; that the municipal elections that were held in Gaza were peaceful, there was a large voter turnout, and they were conducted on the basis of some excellent cooperation between the
Israelis and Palestinians on issues like freedom of movement. And that is something we saw in the national -- the presidential election. It's something we're seeing again repeated now with these municipal elections -- another sign of the cooperation and the way they can work together effectively.
As far as the situation with regard to terrorism and violence, the key is: Do Palestinians, and do Palestinian leaders, act to end terror and violence? And what we've seen so far in President Mahmoud Abbas is a great deal of determination, some very concrete steps. As you saw, I think, in the President's interview yesterday, we've been very impressed by the things he's done and the things he's said, and we look for that to continue. And we look for others in the Palestinian Authority to adopt that same approach and would think that anybody in a position of responsibility must adopt that kind of approach if they are to achieve Palestinian national goals.
QUESTION: So does Hamas' victory, does that lend itself to what you've just said as far as another step in an effort to end the cycle of violence?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Winning an election doesn't mean you stop your violence. You stop your violence because you've abandoned violence as a goal. And that has to be the criteria of judging any particular organization or individual.
QUESTION: Does it bother you that an organization that you and the U.S. Government, as a matter of policy, regard as a terrorist organization, responsible for multiple acts of violence over many, many, many years, should win such popular support?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the point that I have to keep making is that what matters is what people actually do. Certainly we have not changed our view of Hamas as an organization. We think it needs to be put out of the terrorism business, and that remains very clear for us. But as I said, I think that the test right now for the Palestinians, if they want to achieve a Palestinian state, if they want to achieve their national aspirations, is to see whether they will move forward and end the violence, take active steps to end the violence and create the institutions that can support a state. And that's where the roadmap leads, that's where our policy leads and that's where we intend to work with Palestinians who are willing to do that.
QUESTION: So the bottom line is it's okay if members of terrorist organizations win elective office as long as they don't undertake -- and become political actors therefore, as long as they don't undertake violence?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say that.
QUESTION: Well, that's -- but I'm asking you.
MR. BOUCHER: No, that's not the bottom line. Okay. I gave the bottom line. I mean, I don't know how to explain it more. But the point is that -- well, I won't explain it more. I'll just -- rather than saying the same thing again.
QUESTION: Go ahead, try, try.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll say the same thing again. The point is whether people in positions of responsibility act against violence, stop the violence. The violence has undercut Palestinian goals, it has made the creation of a Palestinian state more difficult, and that course is going to have to be abandoned by all if they are to achieve their national goals.
QUESTION: Richard, in the past, you've always rejected a political role for Hamas. When the Secretary was over there two years ago --
MR. BOUCHER: That's why I rejected his characterization of my remarks.
QUESTION: So, but I'm not hearing you today saying that Hamas has no role in Palestinian political life, as you have said in the past.
MR. BOUCHER: We do not -- we don't think Hamas has a role as long as they maintain a course of violence, as long as they remain a terrorist organization; we don’t think they have anything constructive to bring to the process.