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For the past four years, it has been clear to Fatah and Hamas that they had no alternative but to reach a reconciliation. The controversy was over the price. Even now, when the draft agreement is signed, the portfolio allocation, the type of election, the date of the election and the designated ministers and prime minister have yet to be agreed on.

The successful implementation of the reconciliation agreement is largely dependent on both sides recognizing that they will have to make decisions and cooperate without outside help. There is no certainty that Assad, who navigated Hamas' diplomatic moves, is in a position to continue setting the Middle Eastern agenda, as he had hoped after Mubarak's fall. It is clear to Fatah, and especially Mahmoud Abbas, that General Tantawi's Egypt is not Mubarak's Egypt and the Egyptian public pressure to open the Gaza border and the regime's readiness to respond would deprive him of the main leverage over Hamas.

The reconciliation has direct bearing on Abbas' intention to ask the United Nations to recognize an independent Palestinian state. Such a state would include the Gaza Strip, as had been agreed in the Oslo agreement and as Abbas reiterates constantly. Abbas will not be able to pass himself off as one who represents the Palestinian people without reconciling with Hamas, especially when Gaza has played such a major role in evoking international sympathy, perhaps even more than Abbas' infrastructure in the West Bank.

Operation Cast Lead, the Turkish flotilla and the prolonged blockade of Gaza, as well as Israel's settlement policy, helped Abbas persuade world leaders to remove their support from Israel's position and adopt the Palestinian-state idea.

The reconciliation was enabled, among other things, by the fact that Hamas will not be obliged to recognize Israel, because if the United Nations recognizes the Palestinian state, Hamas' specific recognition would be meaningless. Hamas will be part of a Palestinian government making sovereign decisions. Hamas has already said in the past it was willing to recognize all the agreements and decisions accepted by the Arab League, including the Arab Initiative.

Even the United States will not be able to object to a united Palestinian government, in which Hamas is a partner. After all, it had agreed to accept and even support, economically and militarily, a Lebanese government in which Hezbollah was partner. Nor will the United States and Europe be able to object to general elections in the territories, or deny their results, when the West is demanding Arab leaders implement democratic reforms.

Israel could find itself isolated yet again if it objects to the reconciliation or the election.