Israel and Hamas A Problem for Both Sides

What is the practical significance of Hamas' victory? The annulment of the road map agreement, the liquidation of the remains of the Oslo Accords, the strengthening of Hamas' military wing, and, further down the line, a cruel and bitter military confrontation with the Palestinians - despite the fact that Hamas will seek to delay it for the time being.

At the same time, Hamas' victory increases the risk of unrest in Jordan by Islamic elements that cooperate with the movement.

In recent months, political and defense officials have fed the Israeli public with declarations about Israel's extraordinary triumph over Palestinian terror. Hamas' victory is proof of just how superficial these declarations of triumph were.

Hamas' sweeping victory creates a new strategic problem for Israel. But Hamas, too, faces a developing problem. Its work until now has been easy, because it has never had to bear responsibility for the daily existence of the Palestinian people in the territories. Its leaders understand that without cooperation with Israel it has no chance to ensure a minimal existence for the masses. Without financial aid from Western states, which view Hamas as a terror organization, they have no chance of maintaining the Palestinian Authority.

As a result, Hamas is certain at this point to adopt a calming tactic, and will work toward setting up a coalition with Fatah. It will seek to share responsibility with partners, so that the latter will be the ones to request aid from Israel and the international community. Hamas will propose a hudna with Israel, which, according to Islamic interpretation, is a temporary cease-fire with an enemy who may be misled. Israel has rejected such proposals in the past.

Israel must be careful not to confuse a calming and deceptive tactic with Hamas' fundamental strategy, which says that Islamic law dictates working toward destruction of Israel. This is clearly stated in the Hamas charter.

Israel must now decide whether it wants to persevere with its half-and-half strategy - the war on terror, coupled with assistance to the Palestinian Authority and its leaders. The difference is that Mahmoud Abbas recognized the State of Israel, did not call for its destruction, and opposed terror - but was too weak to implement his declared policies. The new Palestinian government under Hamas advocates the destruction of Israel, but expects Israel to provide it with financial assistance for the day-to-day existence of the PA.

Israel's response to the Hamas government in its current form must be determined. The crossings for the passage of goods to and from the Gaza Strip, via Israel, must be dried up in stages. The Quartet mediator, James Wolfensohn, must be informed that the safe passage from Gaza to the West Bank will not open until the Hamas government announces its total acceptance of the road map peace plan.