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Alas, "the elections in the Palestinian Authority were supposed to be part of the democratic process, but they are not. There is no democracy in the world that would allow a terrorist organization to participate in elections," cried the new foreign minister, Tzipi Livni.

There is no basis, of course, for this emotion. Even the United States agreed to allow people suspected of terror activity to participate in its two new "democracies" - Iraq and Afghanistan - if only in the hope that it might help the governments in these states win some sort of legitimacy. The U.S. also expressed quiet satisfaction about Hezbollah's participation in Lebanon's government for the first time. The administration believes that, in this way, an organization defined as terrorist might demonstrate greater political responsibility.

Livni, therefore, can calm down and turn her attention to several other non-democratic matters that are happening in the PA areas - the checkpoints, the felling of trees, the theft of land. Hamas' participation in the parliamentary elections is the least of her worries. She will find alongside Hamas, in the same parliament, representatives of other terror organizations, such as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the Fatah Hawks, and perhaps even the Popular Front, as well as independent activists, including some who have led armed street gangs and some who have participated in terror attacks.

The participation of these people is designed to build the legitimate political infrastructure for Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and not for Ehud Olmert. It will enable Abu Mazen to institute an identical policy to the one Israel is pursuing: not a final-status accord, but intelligent management of the conflict. Just as Kadima, which now seems likely to form the next government of Israel, will have legitimate constraints from the right, the Palestinian government will now have legitimate constraints in the eyes of the Palestinians. This is the political product of the intifada: The partnership with Hamas will make it clear to Abu Mazen that he is authorized to conduct negotiations with Israel, of course, but that neither he nor Fatah has the exclusive right to define the borders of Palestinian nation consensus.

Hamas' participation may also solve one of the meaningless (and pointless) questions that arose back in Arafat's time: Does he want to but cannot, or can but does not want to? The question, which was asked in regard to Arafat's control over terrorism, turned into the central political issue when Abu Mazen became president. Israel, as usual, hurried to declare that Abu Mazen was a weak leader who was both unable to fight terrorism and incapable of making progress in political negotiations. It was not important that Israel had no political goods to offer him, or that Israel could not even manage to apprehend those who chopped down Palestinian olive trees. Because when there is a weak Abu Mazen, it is obvious that there is no need to embark on a diplomatic path with the concessions this entails.

The elections this week will not transform Abu Mazen into a mighty Samson, but for the first time they will create a parliament and government whose authority, like Livni's new party, does not derive from the charisma of a single leader, from a single party - Fatah, whose importance is more historic than political - or from the extent of access to Israeli decision makers. Instead, the parliament and government will be chosen based on the question of what the Palestinians would like to become, and not what they have been until now. Therefore, Livni can stop being afraid: These Palestinian institutions will continue to be "no partner." They will not give up on Jerusalem, they will talk about the right of return and the 1967 borders, and thus will not mar Sharon's sacred heritage, according to which only Israel will determine its steps, in a unilateral way.

But the Palestinian government will also include some important innovations: It will be impossible to continue to call it a terrorist authority, as Israel did during Arafat's time; it will be impossible to continue to charge that it is not an elected or representative body (that is, to question its legitimacy); and, for the first time, it will place Israel opposite a Palestinian government and not opposite a Palestinian leader. Is this the non-democratic process the Israeli foreign minister (who is also the justice minister) fears?