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Even in this region, where diplomatic platitudes don't begin to disguise the preferential treatment afforded Israel (although it is the occupier), the mandate of the new Quartet envoy Tony Blair rings particularly hollow. His role is reported as being "to help create viable and lasting government institutions representing all Palestinians ... and a climate of law and order for the Palestinian people."

Internal Palestinian negotiations between Hamas and Fatah may yet stop the disintegration of the Palestinians' civil institutions and the complete severance between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, at the last moment. These institutions functioned during the most difficult times under Israeli military attacks, but started to crumble after January last year when the West, Israel and some Fatah elements tried in vain to topple a Hamas government founded on democratic elections.

One can go on about Hamas' brutal takeover of the security apparatus in the Gaza Strip, and one could go back and discuss the chaos deliberately brought on by the leaders of those organs. Indeed, Hamas appears to be determined to prove that a national-Muslim regime in the "liberated" area is effective. But Hamas is not homogenous, and the boycott and siege policy has merely strengthened its extremists and their anonymous handlers. It is also true that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his entourage are still entrenched in their irreconcilable anger with Hamas. But after years of becoming accustomed to receiving money from the West to compensate for its chronic political indulgence toward Israel - and in exchange for their inability to end the Israeli occupation - it is hard to decide to what extent their attitude is autonomous and when it derives from American and Israeli dictates.

But both movements are well aware that ultimately they will have to climb down, and that only negotiations can deliver the ladders they need to do so. Only a return to the logic of internal dialogue can save the institutions that Blair was sent "to help create."

Only backing down can save the justice system in Gaza. Abbas, in his anger, suspended the Gaza Strip attorney general's work and ordered the police to stop working. Instructions were issued not to implement court verdicts, and forbade the courts to collect money, paralyzing the civil courts. No wonder Hamas' executive force is setting up its own judiciary committee, consisting of Sharia and military law experts, although its role so far is merely to deal with the complaints against the executive force.

How long will it be until a separate legal system is created in the vacuum created by Abbas' orders? And the Palestinian Legislative Council, a Palestinian institution that coped well with Yasser Arafat's authoritarianism and developed a tradition of monitoring the executive authority? Only discussion and compromises will save it from its paralysis.

A few of the independent elected officials have proposed ways of persuading Fatah to stop boycotting the council's sessions, and Hamas to agree to new PLC presidential elections. This is an attempt to save Abbas from his idiotic bid to hold new elections contrary to the Palestinian Basic Law, and despite his inability to hold them in the Gaza Strip.

References to "law and order" are hypocritical. Blair is not mandated to confront the Israeli occupier's abuses of law and morality in the territories, on which it imposes the order of the master. It takes a great deal of cynicism to talk of institutions "representing all Palestinians" after the international policy of boycotting an elected government contributed so much to the destructive consequences in Gaza.

The American and Israeli veto on political dialogue between the two rival movements consists of a great deal of malice. After all, dialogue is the only logical step the Palestinian public can now ask of its rival movements.