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The Palestinian Authority election marks the beginning of a new period in the region that could be termed "the era of the masses." Henceforth Israel will have to factor into its foreign policy something it has always ignored - Arab public opinion.

Israel has always based its regional policy on arrangements and terror-balances with the Arab dictators. They understood force and Israel could do business with them. Their authority was seen as a barrier protecting Israel from the rage of the hostile rabble in the "Arab street." That was the basis of the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, Yasser Arafat and his heirs and the game rules vis-a-vis Syria and Lebanon.

But those days are over. The democratization process that U.S. President George Bush has triggered and the open debate promoted by Arab satellite networks are causing the old frameworks to crumble. The mass demonstrations that led to the Syrians being driven from Lebanon, the elections in Iraq and those in the territories are merely the beginning. As far as Israel is concerned, the worst stage will come when the democratic wave washes over Jordan, its strategic ally; Egypt with its modern army and F-16 squadrons, and Syria and its Scud and chemical warhead stores.

In the past year millions of Arab citizens have had their say. So did hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the center of Beirut last March and the voters in the Palestinian Authority, who changed their regime democratically.

Granted, Hamas is an armed terror organization. But the international community agreed to its participation in the elections and respects its results.

Israel saw in Bush's democratization initiative a pretension of naive Americans who had no idea of the reality in the region. Israel still remembers the Shah of Iran, who fell from power after America reprimanded him for the infringement of human rights, and was replaced by a hostile regime seeking to annihilate Zionism and make atom bombs.

The Israelis warned the Americans that that unsupervised Arab democracy will bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power, not pro-Western liberals. But Washington refused to listen and insisted on holding the elections on schedule. The new reality requires both Washington and Jerusalem to reevaluate the situation, before the Hamas effect hits Amman and Cairo. In any case, it will be hard to turn back democratic change and resume the comfortable relations with the old dictatorships.

Israel will have to formulate a new foreign policy and strive for peace between nations, not merely with their rulers. And that will be much more complicated.