When the late John Paul II spoke of interfaith reconciliation, he presumably never imagined that an extremist Islamic movement such as Hamas would allocate a spot on its electoral slate for the Palestinian Legislative Council to a Palestinian Christian. And who would have believed that Condoleezza Rice, the preacher's daughter, would declare that she is not worried by the possibility that these elections will consolidate Muslim religious leaders' standing in the Palestinian street? Moreover, there was a meeting in Beirut 10 days ago between the leaders of the Islamic parties - including Moussa Abu Marzook of Hamas and Nawaf Moussawi of Hezbollah - and Western experts, whom these parties view as infidels. The Western delegation included, among others, former CIA officer Graham Fuller and Alistair Crooke, the European Union's former special envoy to the territories. There is evidence that the meeting was approved by that darling of the evangelists, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.

Next week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will visit George Bush's Texas ranch and tell him that the "sheriff" is refusing to arrest the armed criminals roaming the city. The term "terrorist infrastructure" is synonymous with the Islamic organizations, headed by Hamas. The "sheriff," of course, is Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Sharon will surely tell the president about how the disengagement is "tearing the nation apart" and demand that he order Abbas to arrest the leaders of Hamas and confiscate their weapons - or in other words, to replace the rapprochement with the Islamic organizations and the politicization of Hamas with "civil war."

Bush, the man who released the demon of democratizing the Middle East from its bottle, will have great difficulty explaining to Abu Mazen why he must declare war on a religious party that wants to participate in democratic elections. But either way, the Cairo compromise among the Palestinian factions gave Hamas a ticket to enter political life through the main gate. If nothing out of the ordinary happens, tens of thousands of Palestinians, both Fatah members and Hamas activists, will wait patiently at Israel Defense Forces checkpoints this July on their way to the polling station. A few days later, they will rub their hands in glee at the sight of thousands of Israelis wrestling with IDF soldiers along the fences surrounding the Gush Katif settlements. They will see that what Abu Mazen and his colleagues were unable to obtain through peaceful means, Hamas fighters achieved through force of arms.

Nevertheless, the joy felt by peace-seekers on both sides over the "festival of democracy" in the territories and the victory of the moderates in Israel will not last. If the opinion polls and the experts do not prove wrong, the Palestinian ballot boxes will resurrect the coalition behind the PLO's "phased plan." At the same time, the disengagement plan, which arose thanks to the votes of the left, will give birth to a new coalition of the right and the religious parties.

Moussa Abu Marzook has not decided to recognize Israel, and Hamas has not altered a letter of the Islamic covenant that states that "the land of Palestine in its entirety is holy waqf [Islamic trust] land and no one has the right to divide it." In the best case, they will compromise with their Fatah partners in the coalition (and perhaps also in the government) on a temporary retreat by Israel to the 1967 borders, including Israel's cession of the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount), and realization of the right of return in all of Palestine. In the best case, Sharon will continue to exploit the support of his opposition from the "left-lite" in order to annex only the "settlement blocs," to cut Jerusalem off from the West Bank and to encourage the Palestinians to exercise their right to emigrate.

If the "enlightened occupation" created the first intifada and Hamas, the second intifada and enlightened democracy are bringing Hamas close to taking power. The inclusion of a Christian (and a woman) on its electoral slate and the meeting with the "infidels" in Beirut are no more gestures of reconciliation than Sharon's disengagement plan and the fence. They merely show how clear-eyed Hamas leaders are - and how blind the peace-seekers are.