The Bush Administration, in advance of a much-hyped Middle East conference in September, continues to push a "West Bank first" strategy in the occupied territories that confines Gaza to a Hamas-led wasteland.

That plan now has at least one high-profile American critic: Colin Powell.

"I don’t think you can just cast them into outer darkness and try to find a solution to the problems of the region without taking to account the standing that Hamas has in the Palestinian community," Powell said today.

That point, so often missed by American and Israeli policymakers, should be self-evident. But Powell went further, describing how US policy actually empowered Hamas. "They won an election that we insisted upon having," Powell said. "And so, as unpleasant a group they may be and as distasteful as I find some of their positions, I think through some means, the Middle East Quartet… or through some means Hamas has to be engaged."

This is what democracy looks like…