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Rice: Any Palestinian Government Must Accept Israel's Right to Exist

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the Palestinian government that emerges from this week's elections must accept a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict and Israel's right to exist. She said the U.S. view of Hamas, the apparent election winner, has not changed.

Secretary Rice is congratulating the Palestinian people on an election that was peaceful and apparently free and fair, and one which clearly showed a desire for change.

But she is also serving notice that the Middle East peace process cannot go forward unless the Palestinian partner in the dialogue renounces violence and accepts Israel's right to exist.

The secretary's comments in a video hookup with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland were the first by a senior Bush administration official since the Hamas victory in the Palestinian legislative elections became clear.

The United States has no dealings with the militant Islamic group, which the State Department lists as a terrorist organization and Rice said the U.S. view on Hamas has not changed.

She said while the Palestinians have voted for change, the United States believes their aspirations for peace have not changed. She said any new government that emerges would have to adopt the basic tenets of the peace process if it is to gain international acceptance:

"We understand that this is a transitional period," she said. "But anyone who wants to govern the Palestinian people and do so with the support of the international community, has got to be committed to a two-state solution, must be committed to the right of Israel to exist. You cannot have a peace process if you are not committed to the right of your partner to exist."

The secretary said she had discussed the election by telephone with Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and new Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

The discussion will continue Monday at a London meeting of the international Middle East Quartet, including Russia, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States, which is sponsoring the "road map" to a Middle East peace accord.

In her comments to the Davos forum, the secretary said Palestinians are in a period of historic transition after emerging from years of corruption and mis-rule under Yasser Arafat.

She said those in whom the Palestinians are putting their trust now face difficult choices, and that if they are going to provide a future that meets the aspirations of their people, it will have to be a future that renounces violence and terror.