Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday the prospect of a role in a Palestinian government for the militant Islamic group Hamas poses a practical problem for the United States, which views Hamas as a terrorist organization. Analysts believe Hamas is poised for a strong showing in Wednesday's Palestinian election.
The secretary is not saying what the United States would do if victories in Wednesday's legislative elections propel Hamas into the Palestinian government.
But she did say the presence in a government of a group long classified by the United States as a terrorist organization, and one which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, would present what she termed a very practical problem for U.S. policy-makers.
Political analysts in the region expect a strong election showing for Hamas, based partly on divisions within the mainstream Palestinian political movement Fatah and a perception that the organization founded by Yasser Arafat is ridden with corruption.
At a joint press appearance Monday with Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, the secretary said the United States is not about to change its policy toward Hamas, which is blamed for scores of anti-Israeli terrorist attacks that have killed U.S. citizens as well.
She said that, in addition to the terrorism factor, the Palestinian Authority through its acceptance of the international Middle East peace road map is committed to a renunciation of violence and the dismantling of terrorist organizations, while Hamas is not.
"It probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: it's hard to have negotiations with a party that you do not recognize its right to exist," she said. "And so if we indeed do want a path to peace between Israel and the Palestinian people, it is going to have to be one in which Palestinians and any Palestinian government is committed to a peaceful path."
The United States has pressed Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas, without success thus far, to disarm Hamas and other armed groups in line with his often-expressed slogan of one authority, one gun.
In a statement last month, the international Middle East quartet -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- said a future Palestinian cabinet should include no member who has not committed to Israel's right to exist and an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism.
State Department officials have signaled that the United States would have no dealings with Palestinian cabinet members from Hamas or other extremist factions.
A precedent for such a policy was set in Lebanon, where one member of the cabinet that took office last July is from the radical Shiite group Hezbollah, which is also listed by the United States as a terrorist organization.
The State Department said at the time Washington would have no dealings with the Hezbollah minister, but that it would continue working with the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.