At midnight Friday, according to Hamas' interpretation of the Palestinian constitution, the tenure of Mahmoud Abbas as President of the Palestinian Authority comes to an end.
The confrontation in the Gaza Strip has granted Israel the opportunity to decide whether Abbas will lose his legitimacy before some of his nation, or will secure continued Fatah rule in the West Bank.
The decision to adopt the Egyptian-French-American compromise may bring an end to the fighting in the Strip and create the conditions for the resumption of the peace process. A decision to reject it may, instead of causing the collapse of Hamas rule in Gaza, bring about the crash of Abbas' rule in the West Bank. And that will, by extension, destroy the road map.
The proposal is based mostly on the 2005 agreement on the crossings that Israel signed. It established that the Rafah crossing would be operated by the Palestinian Authority and a third party - in this case the European Union - would supervise its operation.
In addition it was agreed that the crossings would be operated on a continuous basis and would be described as international border crossings. Israel would allow the crossing of goods and people between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
A Hamas victory in the January 2006 election resulted in the shelving of the document governing the crossings and the Hamas takeover in the Strip, in June 2007, effectively killed it.
Egypt's Hosni Mubarak would be glad to revive the agreement without offering Hamas an official role. But he also understands something that Israel finds difficult to comprehend - that Hamas is not going anywhere. The alternative to including it in the governance of the Gaza Strip does not translate into a new "security reality" but a new chaotic situation.
As such, Mubarak is relying on the willingness of Khaled Meshal, Hamas' politburo chief, to accept the presence of Abbas' officials at the crossings, next to Hamas representatives and European observers. From the point of view of Hamas, this is as far as it can go. If Israel wishes to have a long range cease-fire that will allow the resumption of the peace process with Fatah, it must come the rest of the way.
In order to make this happen, Mubarak is willing to accept the presence of foreign troops in an effort to prevent smuggling of arms into the Gaza Strip. Moreover, Egypt would like to avoid an opening of Rafah crossing that will strengthen the link between the Strip and Sinai, something Cairo fears like the plague.
Incorporating the PA in the running of the crossings would retain Gaza as an inalienable part of the Palestinian situation. Since its election victory three years ago, it turns out that including Hamas in Palestinian government is a necessary condition to solving the problem.
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