Analysis: Olmert faces crisis, but Kadima will grow stronger
Palestinian election results may bury chance for agreement and increase support for unilateral steps.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is now facing a real crisis, as he has the option of a bad choice or an even worse one. If he shows signs of moderation or softening toward Hamas following its victory in the Palestinian parlimantary elections, his political rival, Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, would base his party's election campaign on the claim that the Gaza pullout was a reward for Hamas.
On the other hand, if he threatens to sever ties with the Palestinians, boycott them, further delay funds owed to them or impose any other punishment, Olmert will find himself facing increasing international pressure to honor the legitimate, democratic election results, and to prevent the collapse of the Palestinian Authority's social and public services.
Over the past few days Olmert has been making an effort to gain time: He banned senior officials from presenting him with action plans before the official Palestinian election results were published, and imposed censorship on discussions on the issue. But this tactic can only work for a few days, and certainly can't be a substitute for an organized policy.
It can be predicted that in the coming days Olmert will make an effort to coordinate with the United States to alleviate international pressure, and at the same time demonstrate a tough domestic stand in order to avoid losing votes to Netanyahu.
In any event, the real implications of the election result will be evident from Hamas' actions in the near future - whether the organization renews suicide attacks or follows a new political path. Most Israelis are more interested in the danger of suicide attacks than in the makeup of the Palestinian parliament.
On the political front, the Hamas victory strengthens Kadima's stands because it rules out any possibility of permanent agreement talks. Hamas' win also adds power to Kadima's "no partner" theory, which states that the only alternative available to Israel is to unilaterally determine the border.
Such a move will include a gradual evacuation of isolated settlements while maintaining control over the West Bank and Jordan Valley, arguing that Israel needs "wide security margins" as it faces a Hamas government calling for its annihilation.
On the other hand, the left will certainly blame Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government for its role in the election results, for its refusal to support PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas or negotiate prisoner releases with him.
On the international front, the Bush administration had insisted on holding the Palestinian elections, and preferred promoting democracy in the Arab world to fighting terror. The results prove that Israel was right when it warned the United States that freedom of choice in the Arab world would award leadership to extremist Islamist movements and not to secular, liberal candidates.
The Americans have seen that elections with real competition and an organized change of command is possible in an Arab state, but now they must face the implications of the voting for a hostile movement that employs terror.
In Europe officials are calling for the reevaluation of Hamas according to its actions in the government. If the truce continues, Europe will increase pressure on Israel to acknowledge the new rulers of the Palestinian Authority and to hold negotiations with them.