From the perspective of Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu, the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip proves that the right-wing stance was correct all along. Israel didn't have to quit Gaza in 2005 or withdraw from Lebanon in 2000, Netanyahu says. The conclusion of Netanyahu and National Union's Zvi Hendel is that Israel should not negotiate over either the Golan Heights or the West Bank, because Syrian President Bashar Assad is unreliable and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is weak.

Such a position makes it seem like rockets weren't being fired on Sderot when Israel was deep in Gaza, and Hamas wouldn't have taken control of the strip if the Gush Katif settlement bloc had remained in Israel's hands. Except that if Israel had not withdrawn from Gaza, the Palestinian fire would have been aimed at the settlers, and the Israel Defense Forces would have paid a heavy price to protect them.

But Netanyahu and Hendel are not moved by the death toll. According to their thinking, we will still be living by our swords in another hundred years. They are also unmoved by the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. They think Israel was charitable toward the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza because the quality of their lives rose during the years of occupation.

But the facts indicate otherwise. In 1970, the gross national product in the West Bank was $250 per capita, and today it is $1,300 - five times as hi gh in nominal terms. During the same period, Jordan experienced 10-fold growth, going from $280 to $2,800.

Similarly, Gaza's GNP rose from $170 per capita in 1970 to $1,000 today, growing six times, while the figure in Egypt rose from $200 to $1,800 - nine times. In other words, the Palestinians' conditions under Israeli rule worsened compared with the region, not to mention the large gap between them and us. Israel's GNP per capita is 20 times larger than the Palestinians'.

Israel has used the resources of the West Bank and Gaza shamefully, taking full advantage of the occupied areas. For years, Israel prevented the Palestinian territories from developing and setting up factories due to opposition from Israeli industrialists, but exploited the cheap and humiliated labor pool. Palestinians stood on endless lines at the Erez Crossing starting at 2 A.M. to land a day's work in Israel. Israel also saw the 3.5 million residents of the West Bank and Gaza as a captive market for Israeli products, generally those of inferior quality. To this day, Israeli factories in the fashion industry continue to take advantage of the cheap labor in Gaza for simple sewing work.

In addition, Israel prevented the Palestinian Authority from setting up a large power station so that it could remain dependent on the Israel Electric Corporation. Israel also prevented the construction of a port so it could control all the imports and exports, and put Dor Energy in charge of supplying the territories with gas.

For 40 years, Israel imprisoned 1.4 million people in the large, neglected and backward refugee camp that is the Gaza Strip, turning them into "the poor that are cast out," as Isaiah would have it. There is a 60-percent unemployment rate in Gaza, and residents depend for sustenance on the rice and hummus they get from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. It is a hopeless situation. Parents are unable to provide their children with food, the housing is dismal, the poverty is humiliating, and the filth, neglect and overcrowding cause despair and aggression.

There is virtually no family in Gaza that has not had relatives killed or wounded, that has not suffered degradation. In such a situation, they have nothing to lose other than life itself. It has become clear that when despair goes sufficiently deep, even life holds no attraction. Last week a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy, a mother of eight children, was arrested on her way to carry out a suicide bombing.

When the Palestinians had a strong and widely accepted leader, Yasser Arafat, with whom one could arrive at a final-status solution, Israel depicted him as a monster and imprisoned him in his Muqata headquarters until his death. When Abbas, an easygoing leader, came along afterward, Israel humiliated him and weakened him and damaged the Palestinian Authority. Israel wouldn't agree to let him have even the accomplishment of the withdrawal from Gaza. No wonder then that Hamas won the elections.

There is a lot of talk over here about the large gaps between the income of the top Israeli decile and the bottom decile, gaps that are said to endanger the stability of Israeli society. But what about the gaps between us and the Palestinians? Don't they endanger us? After all, no one wants to live in a "villa in the jungle," as Labor Party leader Ehud Barak put it. No one wants his neighbor to be poor, unemployed and bitter, to be planning to take revenge on him. But that is precisely our situation. That is where our leaders have brought us. Netanyahu and Hendel, though, aren't bothered by this. They want to continue to lead the country on the path of destruction and bereavement - because Rachel's Tomb is more important.