What will we do without Hamas?
Israel should have a supreme interest in ensuring that the ultimate political product includes the lowest percentage of Hamas and the highest percentage of Fatah.
The Palestinian Authority has traveled a convoluted road from being a non-kosher creature, terrorist, irresponsible and bloodthirsty to being nearly a government, a respected entity, deserving of every assistance. This path was charted to a large extent by Israel's attitude toward Hamas. The more Hamas is described as murderous, the more pleasant the PA and its organizations seem to be. This is especially true when Israel is the one telling the PA who is worthy and who should be kept out of the Palestinian political process. This dictate is now accompanied by Israel's threat to refuse to conduct negotiations with a government that includes Hamas. It seems to Israel that it is even legitimate to torpedo the PA elections.
Israel has the support of the United States and Europe in this demand, a curious demand, one might say, because even the American administration understood that if it wanted to have any government at all in Iraq, it had to agree to co-opt people and parties that were - or in some cases still are - considered terrorists or terror organizations. In Britain, they are negotiating to settle the problem of Ireland, but they are not conditioning the talks on disarmament. In practice, both Europe and the U.S. have accepted the principle, even with the gnashing of teeth, that disarmament is the product of negotiations and not a condition for it. This also seems to be the state of affairs vis-a-vis threats of greater magnitude than rockets on Sderot - for example, in the negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea.
At the same time, Israel itself is quite selective in presenting its conditions. When Silvan Shalom shook the hand of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and invited him to establish full diplomatic relations, or at least conduct a public romance with Israel, he did not demand that Musharraf disarm the religious militias in Pakistan or close the madrasas in which Bin Laden's followers studied and still learn. When they were informed that King Abdullah plans to come to Israel, they did not present him with a preliminary condition of neutralizing the Islamic bloc in the Jordanian parliament, which leads the opposition to Israel. Some of the Gulf states whose recognition Israel seeks are nurturing organizations that contribute to the Palestinians, including Hamas institutions. Israel will certainly not condition the establishment of relations with them on the dismantling of these organizations because the Arab countries today enjoy the status of sought-after brides, and they, as we all know, do not respond well to dictates.
This is not to say that it is inappropriate to demand the disarming of nongovernmental organizations, especially when their weapons are used for terror. But this demand, which should not be dependent on any condition, constitutes a false pretense - as if the peace process were burning in Israel's bones and only those Hamas bastards with their weapons were delaying its realization.
The political struggle between the PA and Hamas, a struggle in which Hamas' weaponry is a very important component, should be of great interest to Israel if it truly seeks to build political relations with the PA, because this struggle will determine whether there is a partner and which partner this turmoil will produce. Israel should have a supreme interest in ensuring that the ultimate political product includes the lowest percentage of Hamas and the highest percentage of Fatah. But when Israel presents disarmament as a prerequisite condition, it is demanding that the PA first solve the problem of Palestinian politics and only then address the problem of Palestinian-Israeli relations. In doing so, Israel is granting the power of veto to Hamas.
It would be better for Israel to concentrate on the main thing: helping the desired Palestinian government establish itself and acquire the ability and authority to govern. But herein lies another "trap." Rehabilitating the PA's ability to manage the issues in Gaza is dependent on massive economic assistance. Part of this assistance, and perhaps the biggest part, will necessarily be channeled through the welfare institutions of Hamas. Would it be possible to stop such assistance until Hamas disarms or amends its covenant? Of course, but then there would also no longer be a Palestinian Authority. However, it appears that this is not what is keeping Israel awake at night.