WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is asking Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search) to require candidates in next January's election to renounce violence as a means of easing tensions with Israel, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday.
But Edward Abington, a former U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem who advises the Palestinian leadership, said Abbas prefers bringing Hamas and other militant groups into the political process where he hopes to bind them to law-and-order legislation.
"As far as running in an election, you cannot cherry-pick between those you like and those you don't like," Abington said in an interview. "But once they are in the legislature they will be bound by the decisions and the laws passed by the legislature."
The Bush administration has urged Abbas to dismantle Hamas and other groups considered to be terrorist organizations. While the Palestinian leader has denounced violence, he has not tried to keep the groups from fielding candidates for the legislature.
With Abbas due to see President Bush (search) Thursday at the White House, the administration approached Palestinian officials in Washington in advance with the proposal to screen out the most militant members of these groups.
The Palestinians were willing to listen to the proposition and consider it, said the U.S. official, who refused to be identified further because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Abbas may face similar requests when he meets with House and Senate leaders on Thursday after seeing the president.
On his schedule also are dinner with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) Wednesday and a meeting Thursday afternoon with Vice President Dick Cheney.
A spurt of Palestinian attacks on Israel has slowed growing cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and raised concerns within the administration that the momentum gained by Israel's withdrawal last month from Gaza could be slowing down.
The Bush administration, in a familiar middleman role, is urging Israel to relent in re-imposing restrictions on travel by Palestinians or in other ways hampering their daily lives.
Abbas' strategy is to try to co-opt Hamas, which has a strong following among Palestinians, by bringing it into the political process and then trying to make militants part of a consensus against violence.
Abington said once a new legislature is elected it will enact legislation to strengthen security and law and order. "Hamas would have to go along with the legislation even if they are against it," the former U.S. diplomat said. "They will be bound by the law."