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Quartet Says Next Palestinian Cabinet Should Exclude Extremists

The United States and its partners in the Middle East Quartet said Wednesday the Palestinian cabinet that emerges from elections next month should exclude groups that reject Israel's right to exist. The Quartet also said a way should be found to allow Jerusalem Palestinians to take part in the January 25 legislative council elections.

The written statement by the Quartet, the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, mentions no Palestinian groups by name. But it appears aimed mainly at the Islamic militant group Hamas, which is contesting the January election yet maintains an armed militia wing and refuses to accept Israel's existence.

The statement, released here, said there is a fundamental contradiction between armed-group and militia activities and the building of a democratic state, and said the Quartet calls on all participants in the upcoming election to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist, and disarm.

The Quartet members welcomed a generally worded code of conduct accepted by most Palestinian parties in October committing to democratic principles. But it said the Palestinian Authority should take additional steps by prohibiting political parties from pursuing their aims through violence, and moving quickly to codify this in Palestinian law.

It said the four parties believe that a future Palestinian cabinet should include no member who is not committed to the principles of Israel's right to exist in peace and security, and to an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism.

In a talk with VOA, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the statement was drawn up by senior diplomats of the Quartet in the interest of promoting a free, fair and safe Palestinian election. He said the Quartet was not faulting Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas for his handling of election preparations, and that it is incumbent upon the broader Palestinian community to reject extremism:

"It's not up to Mahmoud Abbas to enforce political orthodoxy on all Palestinians," said Mr. Ereli. "It's really up to the Palestinian political actors themselves and the Palestinian political culture, frankly, to reject violence, reject the antiquated notion that Israel doesn't have a right to exist, and recognize that if you're going to participate in politics, you have to do so peacefully."

The Quartet partners called for immediate direct dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to coordinate preparations for the voting, including allowing the movement of voters, election personnel and materials, and the presence of international observers. It said both parties should work to set up a mechanism allowing Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to exercise their legitimate voting rights, in line with existing precedent.

The Israeli government had warned it would not allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote because Hamas was participating there. However earlier this week Israeli officials said they might drop their objections, not wanting to be accused of trying to sabotage the election.

Palestinians are to choose a new 132-member legislative council in the elections, originally set for last July but postponed to January.

The Middle East Quartet was organized in 2002, largely at the impetus of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, to try to advance regional peace efforts.

It issued its as yet unfulfilled road map to a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace accord in early 2003.

Quartet principals hold periodic meetings, the last one coming in September on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.