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Erekat Warns of Israeli 'Sabotage' of Palestinian Elections

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said in Washington Tuesday the Palestinians want broad international monitoring of upcoming elections to help prevent Israeli sabotage of the process. Mr. Erekat met Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials.

Mr. Erekat says the parliamentary elections January 25 figure to be a "turning point" in Palestinian political life, and he is urging the broadest possible international monitoring of the campaign and voting to deter what he warns could be Israeli meddling.

The veteran Palestinian politician spoke to reporters here after a round of meetings White House aides and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice focusing on the elections, including U.S. concerns about the role of Hamas and other radical Palestinian factions in the process.

Mr. Erekat sidestepped questions about the prospect of Hamas, an armed group sworn to Israel's destruction, fielding candidates in the election.

He insisted that "strict" Palestinian election rules preclude advocating incitement and violence, and that Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas is committed to the rule of law and the concept of "one-authority, one gun."

Mr. Erekat said the Palestinians, though still largely under occupation, have made the choice of democracy and are appealing world-wide for election assistance and monitoring to safeguard the process from what he repeatedly insisted could be Israeli "sabotage:"

"The (Palestinian) Central Election Commission has already sent the invitations to the Americans, to the Canadians, to the Norwegians, Japanese, the Chinese, to everybody in the world, so we hope to have thousands of observers to monitor our elections, to see that we have free and fair, transparent elections on one hand. And on the other hand, to make sure that the Israelis don't obstruct these elections by arresting candidates, by assassinating them, or by putting roadblocks or preventing the electoral process," Mr. Erekat says.

Bush administration officials have made clear their unease about the notion of Hamas, a group designated by the United States as a terrorist organization, winning parliamentary seats and a possible role in a Palestinian government.

However, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack says the United States is not advancing any ideas for filtering out extremist candidates, and that Secretary Rice stressed to Mr. Erekat that it is an issue Palestinians will have to resolve:

"She again underlined in this meeting, as she has before, that it is important for the Palestinian people to deal with the fundamental contradiction of having groups that want to keep one foot in the camp of terrorism, and yet one foot in the camp of governance," Mr. McCormack says. "You can't do that. A government has to have the sole right to use force in order to keep public order as well as to fight terrorism."

Mr. Erekat commended Secretary Rice for her role earlier this month in securing an Israeli-Palestinian accord on opening Gaza crossing points, saying it shows that third-party intercession is often essential in moving peace efforts forward.

He said the U.S. administration should "stay the course" by pressing Israel to end West Bank settlement expansion and fulfill other commitments under the peace "road map" to move the sides toward early negotiations on final-status issues.

Spokesman McCormack said Ms. Rice urged both sides to, as he put it, "keep their eye on the ball" and meet upcoming deadlines under the Gaza checkpoints accord, while calling on the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its "road map" security obligations.