Instead of conducting the talks through Abbas and letting him reap the accomplishment, Israel has turned Haniyeh into the hero of the hour.
When civilians on both sides are getting killed and 1.5 million people are under siege, a cease-fire is good news. But a cease-fire is not an end in itself; especially when one side declares in advance that it does not believe it will endure over time.
The declared goal of the current government is to reach a permanent-status agreement with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has even warned that without a two-state solution, there will be no more Jewish state. Therefore, he should gauge his steps based on how much they contribute to this important strategic goal. In other words, if the temporary arrangement with Hamas jeopardizes the effort to reach a permanent agreement with Fatah, then the cease-fire should have been obtained in another way.
A few years ago, Ehud Barak told Gideon Levy in an interview that if he had been a Palestinian, he would have joined a terrorist organization. Who would Barak have joined this week? Hamas? - which has once again proved that force is the only language Israel understands. Or Fatah? - which once again watched the Egyptian-sponsored game between Israel and Hamas from the sidelines, as though there were no Oslo Accords, no Palestinian Authority, no road map and no Annapolis.
Palestinian pollster Dr. Khalil Shikaki said this week at a conference in Jerusalem that if elections had been held on the day the cease-fire agreement was finalized, Hamas would have won majority support in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Shikaki saw the cease-fire agreement as the reason for this.
Shikaki's last survey, conducted in late May and early June with Dr. Yaacov Shamir of the Hebrew University's Truman Institute, actually held good news for Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his followers. In the previous poll, conducted in March, Abbas and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh received nearly the same amount of public support. In the new poll, Abbas led over his Hamas rival by 12 percent, and Haniyeh's legitimacy ratings dropped from 34 percent to 29 percent. Shikaki attributed this trend to the futility of the rocket attacks on the Israeli communities near Gaza and the continued high level of support (67 percent) for the Saudi peace plan, which offers full peace in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal.
For many months, Fatah mocked Hamas by arguing that the Qassam rockets, which Abu Mazen called "toys," had no effect on Israel and were causing the people of Gaza unnecessary suffering. And here we discover that the "toys" are a strategic weapon. Instead of conducting the negotiations through Abu Mazen and letting him reap the accomplishment, or at least control the border crossings, Israel has turned Haniyeh into the hero of the hour. And that is not the end. Now that Hamas has shown that you can get recognition from Israel without recognizing it yourself, Haniyeh will free the prisoners that Fatah was unable to free; perhaps even their leader, Marwan Barghouti.
When U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, European coordinator Javier Solana and Quartet representative Tony Blair voice their congratulations, all the Palestinian Authority can do is issue its own festive press release about the arrangement reached by its Palestinian rival and its Israeli partner.
Meanwhile, while the cease-fire with Hamas was being hammered out in Cairo, the construction of 1,300 Jerusalem housing units outside the 1967 border was authorized. The newspapers reported that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was furious with Olmert. So what if she was. She also reportedly said that expanding the settlements sabotages the peace efforts. So what if she did. Every Palestinian child knows that the Americans talk, and the Israelis act. Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yehoshua Pollak, who holds the planning and construction portfolio, told Haaretz that he does not know what the big deal is: This is, after all, "construction within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem." But isn't East Jerusalem now at the heart of the negotiations? Oh, please.
Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated because he insisted on continuing with the Oslo process even when buses were blowing up in Tel Aviv. He insisted on negotiating for peace as if there were no terrorism and fighting terrorists as if there were no peace talks. Ehud Barak, known as "the man continuing in Rabin's footsteps," made an agreement with the terrorist leaders this week as if there were no peace talks, and he damaged his partners in the peace talks as if there were no terrorism. Barak knows better than anyone that the peace talks are just "make-believe," and that terrorism and the occupation remain.