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A guest from afar, now visiting Israel and the occupied territories, might conclude that a deadly virus afflicts the political opinion of both peoples. One side throngs to join an instant party, directed by a substitute for a leader on sick leave. The other puts its trust in a religious party that entices small children to achieve celestial union with 70 virgins. With a bit of effort, such a visitor might unearth the source of the affliction. This is neither a heavenly decree nor a deus ex machina. This is "chaos ex machina" by the hand of man. Kadima and Hamas are virulent mutations of unilateral insanity.

Kadima is constructed on the ruins of the Israeli public's belief in the prospect of solving the conflict - and on the growing belief in the option of managing it according to the public will: Not negotiation but more unilateral withdrawals, more separation fence, more assassinations and more curfews.

Hamas has risen atop the same ruins among the Palestinian public, and the belief in the option of managing it according to that public's will: Not negotiation but more acts of terror, more Qassam missiles, more control of local authorities and more seats on the Legislative Council.

Those who are entertained by the notion that Hamas' opinion will cool after its representatives warm the seats of the Palestinian parliament would do well to read statements made at the beginning of the week by the organization's leader, Mahmoud a-Zahar, at an election rally in the Northern Gaza Strip: "Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades will grow stronger and will continue to produce and develop arms." In other words, after elections, not only will the military arm of Hamas fail to lay down its weapons, but it will also be empowered sevenfold. To dispel any doubt regarding Hamas' intentions following its integration in the government, a-Zahar added, "We will hound the agents [the Palestinian Authority] by legal means to bring them to account, and they will get what they deserve. We will also settle accounts with those who robbed the people of their money and used the law to achieve their own gains."

The most peculiar phenomenon in Israeli politics is that the winning card in coming Israeli elections is expected to be the assumption that Sharon's heirs will follow in his path. This is the same path that contributed to the transformation of Hamas, in elections slated to take place tomorrow in the territories, into a leading and legitimate force in Palestinian politics. The discovery of an affinity between the disengagement from Gaza and Abu Mazen and the decline of Fatah and rise of Hamas is neither a great revelation nor Monday morning quarterbacking.

Radicalization

At the beginning of summer, 2005, a short while before the originally scheduled date of Palestinian Legislative Council elections, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz summoned Professor Emanuel Sivan, who has contributed his vast knowledge to the research department of Military Intelligence for years, and Dr. Mati Steinberg, who advised two leaders of the Shin Bet security service. Mofaz asked the pair of experts to his office to outline the breakdown of political power relations in the territories. Some time around then, Steinberg apprised the leadership of the Foreign Ministry regarding the same circumstances.

Some of the content discussed during those meetings may be read in an interview with Steinberg published in Haaretz in June, 2004. The following are central statements:

"The centrist, national wing of the Fatah movement led by Arafat adopted the principle of two states. However, when it became clear to them that this pragmatic conclusion did not reap results, they turned to extremism...The process of radicalization was fueled by the political dead end...This is the background against which the 'suicidal society' flourished, which legitimizes suicide bombers considered to be public emissaries. Under these circumstances, the application of ever increasing force, on our part, reinforces the Palestinian notion that there is nothing to lose. In this way, the success of [Israeli] military operations minimized diplomatic room to maneuver. They continuously reinforced a destructive two-state reality which only offered one way out - unilateral withdrawal without compensation, which paradoxically suits the strategy of Hamas."

Steinberg told Mofaz and his advisers that the political vacuum not only made way for Hamas. He warned that those who did not want Fatah as their partner would get Hezbollah, Iran and Al-Qaida. Arab-affairs experts said that postponement of elections would not cure the grave disease and might even exacerbate the symptoms. In addition, they said, it would be preferable for the government to take steps that indicate to Palestinians that the path of pragmatists, the adversaries of Hamas, is more beneficial. Have we already mentioned prisoner release?

Mofaz listened patiently. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom also received the report from members of his administration. They listened and remained silent. Usually, when something disturbs them, they know how to track down the most senior pundits. And perhaps it is not fair to complain. The media would have called them "rebels."

If one considers senior officials in the White House and the U.S. State Department good company, one might say that Mofaz and Shalom are among good company. A short while before the disengagement was launched, a delegation dispatched by Abu Mazen arrived in Washington, pleading that the U.S. government ask Sharon to pretend, at least, that he is transferring the Gaza Strip to the PA. Otherwise, the delegation warned, Hamas would take credit. The emissaries soon understood that President Bush had limited knowledge of the challenge that the Islamic movement posed to the national movement in the Arab world. In response, the president recited the kid-gloves policy [in regard to Sharon] and sent them home to dismantle terrorist infrastructure.

No such thing as half of the Oslo Accords

From a formal, legal point of view, Israel has never had a better case for claiming that the PA election committee must disqualify the Hamas list. Oslo II, signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in September, 1995 clearly declares that the candidacy of parties or individuals who act in a racist manner or encourage racism or use anti-democratic means to achieve their goals must be disqualified. A July, 2005 position paper authored by international legal experts in the Ministry of Justice, before the previous date of elections in the territories, declares that the Hamas does not even approximate these conditions. The position paper notes that, in recent years, Spain and Turkey disqualified parties with platforms similar to that of Hamas and the European judicial system rejected every one of their appeals. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni waved the position paper in front of every European guest and every American-Jewish heavyweight who appeared on her doorstep. A position paper formulated at about the same time in the judicial department of the Foreign Ministry lists Hamas acts of terror and quotes the movement's official documents calling for the cancellation of diplomatic agreements with Israel. Members of the Foreign Ministry professional staff warn that after Israel agrees, even by its silence, to the participation of Hamas in elections, it will be difficult to adopt alternate policies shunning the organization.

"The problem is not at all legal," noted a senior ministry official. "If the political echelon took a decision to engage in battle, we would easily win." But the political echelon, that is, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, passed up the battle. Only when it appeared that the mustangs had already escaped from the corral, did Sharon make a half-hearted attempt to recruit the Americans to wrangle them back in. He asked. Bush refused. Hamas was on its way.

The most commonly accepted explanation, in diplomatic circles, is that Sharon preferred that Hamas set foot in the Legislative Council rather than permit Fatah to make use of Israeli claims against Hamas participation in order to get a foot into the Oslo door. After years of ignoring the interim agreement and making every effort to kill it, Sharon failed to gather the necessary chutzpah to use it to meet his own needs.

Senior officials in the PA prefer the Machiavellian explanation. They are convinced that Sharon was interested in a Hamas victory that would finally liquidate the remains of the Oslo agreement known as the road map. He obviously failed to consider that his heirs, who followed him in opposing Arafat's heirs, would discuss the "peace process" with the heirs of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.