Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City on March 18, 2007. Photo by AP
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The Palestinian reconciliation deal, if realized, heralds the takeover of the Palestinian national movement by Hamas, providing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with an escape from the rut he has fallen into because of the deadlock in the peace process. This is just what Netanyahu needed to unite the Israeli public behind him and thwart international pressure to withdraw from the West Bank.

A "unity government" or "technocracy" - as the Palestinians called it yesterday - is a nice but empty headline. In real life, there is no a-political rule and there are no egalitarian governments. There is always a ruling side with partners being dragged behind it. The stronger, more organized, better armed side, i.e. Hamas, will rule the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, not "technocrats." This is how the communists took over East Europe after WWII.

As for Netanyahu, the Palestinian reconciliation deal justifies his warnings that any territory vacated by Israel will fall into Hamas hands and become an Iranian terror base. It strikes any proposals for interim agreements and unilateral withdrawals, intended to appease the world, off the agenda.

Only two options remain - that Israeli surrender to the expected UN resolution on Palestinian independence and agreement to withdraw to the Green Line or entrench itself in its current position.

Netanyahu is expected to choose the second alternative. Israel is being attacked with missiles on Ashdod and on school buses and explosions in the gas pipe from Egypt, he will say.

There is nothing like a sense of emergency and siege to unite the Israeli public behind his government. When the third intifada erupts, Netanyahu will be able to portray Israel's war against it as a war against Iran and its satellites and neutralize criticism from the left about missed opportunities for peace in the past two years.

From here on, the pressure will mount on Tzipi Livni to join an Israeli unity government to stand against the Palestinians and international community. When Mahmoud Abbas joins Hamas, Kadima cannot say it has a peace partner and cannot propose an alternative policy. Why should Kadima stay in opposition now?

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman grasped the situation first. He proposed to Netanyahu and Livni two weeks ago to work with him on an Israeli proposal for a final-status arrangement with the Palestinians.

The reconciliation has also saved Netanyahu's trip to Washington to speak at the AIPAC convention and in Congress. He no longer has to line the trip with concessions to the Palestinians. The pressure is off. He can make a Churchillian blood-sweat-and-tears speech, the kind he loves, and appear as the West's last bastion of hope in the face of the Islamic wave washing over the Middle East.