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It's a pleasure to do business with Islamic Jihad. It fires Grad rockets, Israel responds with bombs, Egypt mediates indirect talks, there's a cease-fire and everyone is satisfied. Israel once again displays its "deterrent power" (which did not deter Islamic Jihad from launching rockets in the first place ). Islamic Jihad shows its ability to challenge Hamas, and Hamas is granted the status of "the responsible adult." Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas does not have to intervene and can continue to play the role of the desperate one, while Egypt once again demonstrates its authority as head of the house committee.

This is the kind of confrontation Israel prefers. It does not require exhausting negotiations or mutual recognition, the cease-fire does not require withdrawal from territories, the price required of Israel is relatively low, the powers do not intervene, the political balance of power isn't threatened and even the strange Strategic Affairs Ministry is not worried.

The beauty lies in the way Israel divides the conflict with the Palestinians into separate battlefields to avoid a comprehensive diplomatic solution. Until six years ago, Israel was faced with the Palestinian Authority, which controlled the two parts of Palestine - Gaza and the West Bank. But the results of the January 2006 elections in the territories brought Hamas to power and gave Israel the excuse to deprive the PA of its representation. The two parts of the Palestinian state became independent entities and by their own doing fulfilled Israel's desire to apply the principle of divide and rule.

This principle gave Hamas the right to veto any diplomatic step by Abbas, while Abbas' lack of control over Gaza threatened to make any arrangement with him pointless security-wise. Israel could not forgo this "gift," so any Palestinian effort to close ranks encountered not only internal differences but also an Israeli threat, accompanied by American pressure, to shun the PA and even impose sanctions on it.

Thus Hamas became an indispensable partner in the campaign to torpedo the diplomatic process. It also was turned into a powerful political component as far as Israel was concerned. Without Hamas as a partner in the process, Abbas does not have a comprehensive security agreement to propose to Israel; with Hamas in the process, Israel is not willing to sit down at the negotiating table. Thus the "process" can live forever without arriving at any solutions.

This was the case until it became clear, and not for the first time, that when necessary - either for creating a cease-fire and mollifying Israelis in the south or getting back a kidnapped soldier - Hamas can be an excellent partner. And life is much more convenient when there is a responsible partner - a partner who is not only ideological but who also knows how to be political, exactly like the Israeli partner.

But a moment before Hamas follows in Fatah's footsteps and switches from terrorist organization to an acceptable political entity, and in this way ruins the Israeli calculus, another group must be strengthened to fulfill Hamas' role vis-a-vis the PA. This is Islamic Jihad, and so, as long as Islamic Jihad disregards Hamas, Israel can have it both ways: It can put responsibility on Hamas for what is happening in Gaza while strengthening Islamic Jihad by striking it.

The result is that Islamic Jihad and not Hamas is negotiating with Israel in Egypt; all of a sudden it too is a partner. This confrontation has erroneously been defined as asymmetrical, but it's actually a very symmetrical confrontation in which Israel has no consummate military response to Islamic Jihad and must position itself on an equal footing as far as the Egyptian mediator is concerned. It's no less vulnerable than the organization it's fighting, and the potential strategic damage of this confrontation is no different than a war between armies.

Political logic points to going back to the start, making it possible for the PA to establish a unified government recognized by Israel, and to recognize a Palestinian state responsible for any demands and claims. But political logic contradicts Israel's political logic, which aspires to a never-ending political process even at the price of intermittent shooting and a few deaths every year. In the face of this political logic, the policy has no remedy.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: ישראל בעד אלה עם הגראד