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The local elections in the territories resolved a dilemma for many undecided voters on the left (at least three seats' worth, according to internal party surveys) - whether to vote for Ariel Sharon of the "there is no partner" party, or Yossi Beilin of the Geneva Initiative. Hamas's sweeping victory proved that Sharon was right: There is no one to talk to.

The Palestinians are turning their backs on Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and in his place, they are crowning a gang of fanatics who promise a war of annihilation against the Jewish state. That is also how they are rewarding those who gave them the gift of the Gaza Strip without even asking anything in exchange. Enough of the peace camp's illusions, enough of the right's lack of progress, Kadima ("onward") to a unilateral solution.

It seems reasonable, does it not? But it depends on where you start - from the cause or from the effect: Is Abbas not a partner because he is weak, or is he weak because Sharon decided that he is not a partner? Would Hamas have attained a similar degree of popularity if Sharon had invited Abbas to resume diplomatic negotiations? What would the results of the elections have been if Sharon had given Abbas the keys to the Gaza Strip, opened a safe passage to the West Bank for him and enabled his policemen to obtain ammunition?

Granted, the Palestinian Authority is not innocent of either corruption or sins of omission. But in practice, who really controls the territories that are falling like ripe fruit into the hands of Islamic fanatics? Who, more than anyone else, determines the fate of their inhabitants and drives the desperate into dark corners?

Hamas's Internet sites do not hide the organization-come-party's satisfaction with Sharon's policy. They praised him for ousting the charismatic Yasser Arafat from the political arena and highlight every quote from the prime minister declaring that Abbas is not a partner. Hamas's publicists write explicitly that the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza attests that Israel understands only force. They are hoping for other such withdrawals, which will nurture the security lull and enable them to further cement their support among the desperate.

Hamas's electoral victory could also help Sharon to shrug off diplomatic pressure - because with Hamas, it is not necessary to discuss territorial compromise, a division of Jerusalem and a reasonable solution to the refugee problem. There is no danger that the leaders of that organization will be invited to the White House, or even to European capitals. In short, in comparison to Hamas, the Palestine Liberation Organization is a "nonpartner lite."

It seems, therefore, that what was once called "a window of opportunity" is gradually closing, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become an all-out, violent, religious conflict. While the United States is laying the foundations for the establishment of the first Arab-Shi'ite state in the Middle East, Israel is doing its part for the new Middle East by removing the last secular barrier to the first Muslim Brotherhood state in the region.

Sharon's previous attempt to create a new order among our neighbors, with the help of the Christian Phalangists, ended with the secular PLO being replaced by the religious fanatic Hezbollah on Israel's northern border. But it seems that Sharon learned his lesson from the Lebanon War: He has been careful to impose the new order in the territories, with the help of Islamic Phalangists, with the full backing of America's power centers and the support of the Israeli peace camp. The former supplied him with the plan to democratize the Middle East, and the latter are promising to shower him with Knesset seats. Any more victories like this, and we are lost.