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No hudna deal was struck this week - and not because of Israel. It's even possible to say the hudna wasn't sealed despite Israel, because there was readiness here to be flexible and let Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia attempt his political initiative. Israel was going to portray him as someone with whom it could do business, if only so Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could justify some tactical moves that would remove some of the American pressure. According to Egyptian sources, Israel made that clear to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who therefore believed a cease-fire was within his reach.

However, apparently one variable was completely hidden from Israeli and Egyptian eyes, as well as from Qureia's. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are turning into a Palestinian Authority II. They take credit for the most significant armed struggle against Israel. They have a military infrastructure and near territorial definition in Gaza, and an authentic ideology that not only opposes negotiations with Israel but the very existence of the "Zionist entity." In the past, they spoke about how they could put up an alternative leadership to the PA, and now they are trying to prove they can implement it in practice. Qureia's trip to Egypt, which may yet turn out to be a mistake, was in effect meant to get a power of attorney from them to negotiate with Israel. Meanwhile, they haven't provided that power, at least not at the price he offered.

Seemingly, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are trying to win a position similar to that of Hezbollah in Lebanon: a combat organization capable of positioning a deterrent force against Israel and an agenda that provokes the local government's administration. But, in fact, the Palestinian groups are in much better shape than Hezbollah. While the Lebanese group is shackled to the domestic political game in Lebanon, subordinate to the strategic permits provided by Iran and Syria, and forced to take into consideration Lebanese public opinion, which doesn't want retaliatory attacks against its own civilian targets, the Palestinian organizations have no such constraints. The Palestinian government has not managed to assert public legitimacy, mostly because Israel did not cooperate. The economic and civilian infrastructure in Palestine has been smashed and harming it further won't force the population to pressure Hamas and Islamic Jihad. There is no Arab state on which the organizations depend for their existence. They might have been weakened militarily but not politically, since Egypt is the one who invited them to negotiations, Qureia ran after them, and so far they have nothing to fear from public opinion since the public at this point has nothing to lose.

The organizations' power will be preserved as long as Israeli policy is guided by the formula of no negotiations under terror. It's precisely the sort of policy that not only allows those groups to survive but to dictate policy and turn into a powerful political force. Therefore, the failed round of talks in Cairo probably won't be the last, because as long as the talks go on, the organizations have a platform for their views and can become a crucial part of the decision-making process. The PA recognizes the political "problem" named Hamas and Jihad, particularly against the background of talk about a "unified Palestinian leadership," which would include those groups and strip the PLO of its title as the exclusive representative of the Palestinian people.

The only way to undermine the stature of the groups would be to change the formula dictating negotiations so that Qureia's success is no longer dependent on the goodwill of those two groups but rather on his ability to win genuine achievements from Israel. The Palestinian national struggle against the organizations must be disconnected from the Israeli-Palestinian equation and marginalized until such a time as an independent Palestinian state decides to co-opt the Islamic groups into the government, as Jordan did, or destroy them, as Egypt did. The land mine on the way is that, for that change to take place, the PA needs courageous cooperation from Israel. On that account, as long as the current government is in place in Jerusalem, the rejectionists have nothing to fear.