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In Cairo, representatives of the Palestinian parties have discussed the threshold of votes required for representation on the Palestinian Legislative Council. The party that is considered the strongest, Hamas, wants a high threshold and threw out the figure of 8 percent, to the shock of members of one of the smaller parties. In Fatah, a ruling party that has known the taste of defeat, opinions were mixed: Some preferred a relatively high threshold (4 percent) in the hope that it would force the smaller factions within the PLO to run on a unified list with Fatah in democratic elections. Most of the Fatah representatives favor a lower number, however. Meanwhile, the rival leaderships are acting as if they operate within a sovereign country rather than in split and isolated territories under foreign domination.

Clinging to formal expressions of parliamentary democracy while being pilloried in the occupation is, in the final analysis, an expression of allegiance to the Oslo process. That is not surprising when it comes to Fatah, which has tried to sell that process to the public as constituting a road to independence within the 1967 borders during the current generation's lifetime. Fatah's senior echelons still declare that this is possible, although there is plenty of evidence that even they are fed up with the situation. Cynics will say that the failing Oslo process assures senior PLO officials and Fatah officials the personal benefits granted by a quasi-government under the aegis of the West. Others will say that, in addition, they are waiting for international pressure to be put on Israel.

Allegiance to the Oslo framework clashes with Hamas' political opposition to agreements, but only ostensibly. The ideological commitment of this religious-national movement is not to sovereignty within the 1967 borders, but rather to liberating the entire country. Therefore, it is not bothered by the political, institutional and social split that exists between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, a split which contradicts the two-state solution and which Israel initiated and has perfected since 1991. In contrast, Hamas' timetable for full liberation is almost Koranic in its proportions - that is, something that will not occur even in the next generation. But in contrast to the proven failure of the promises made in Oslo, no one can prove there will be a future failure. At the moment, it is important for Hamas to prove that as an Islamic-nationalist movement, it can rule and attain international legitimacy while promising the liberation that has assumed mythological proportions.

Despite their declarations, the two rival Palestinian leaderships are not trying to undermine the status quo that Oslo has created: Israeli occupation, limited Palestinian self-rule, humanitarian handouts from the world and endless negotiations. In their preoccupation with the elections and the makeup of a government whose powers are so limited, they are reinforcing the false image of an end to the occupation that has developed over the past 15 years and has been so beneficial to Israel. Israel renounces any obligation vis-a-vis the occupied people, and has gone to even greater extremes in its methods of oppression; it continues to treat that people's land as its own, while, by the very act of formally participating in the negotiations, it satisfies the demands of the governments that count in the world.

If they really aspired to liberation, the two Palestinian leaderships would break a few rules in the Oslo game. They would give up the process of Western-style elections, which is essentially divisive. They would find other means of expressing differences and consensus, and also of encouraging public discourse concerning all the methods of liberation that have failed so far.

But that is apparently no easy thing when the possibility of ruling, no matter how limited and sterile, is within reach.