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Suddenly, everyone is panicking. Silvan Shalom has proposed canceling the disengagement if it turns out that Hamas wins the Palestinian parliamentary elections. The American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has suggested postponing the elections until reforms have been implemented in the Palestinian Authority. She also has been struck by a fear of Hamas.

The director general of the PA president's office, Tayeb Abd al-Rahim, explained in a long interview on Thursday why, "from a legal standpoint," it would be best to postpone the elections, which must serve the "national interest." The director went on and on, in a convoluted way, so that in the end it was impossible to understand whether the law serves the nation or the nation serves the law. What was clear, however, is that there are also those in the PA who are fearful of Hamas taking control.

Suddenly, democracy does not look so attractive. It refuses to guarantee the desired results in advance. The thin thread with which Israel hoped to bind the PA's neck has become entangled around its own feet. To be fair, it should be noted that Shalom does not own the copyright to "the Arab democratization enterprise." Benjamin Netanyahu was the one to put forward the slogan of Palestinian (and Arab) democracy as a condition for continuing negotiations.

The idea was later successfully marketed to the American administration, which has been trying for three years already, in a powerful campaign, to export this idea to bleary-eyed and bloodied countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Egypt and, of course, the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has simply climbed aboard the same rickety truck on which Natan Sharansky and George Bush hung a faded cloth banner proclaiming: "Democracies do not wage war against each other." But what if one of the democracies is ruled by an extremist religious party and the other by an extremist right-wing party? And what if one is ruled by a government that aspires to regain all of the territory of the Land of Israel for itself, and the same is true of the second country?

Democracy, it appears, cannot be the be-all and end-all, if one judges from the fear in the eyes of the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority and the American administration. There is no immutable connection, for example, between democracy and the peace process.

Up until several months ago, Israel went to great lengths to blur the distinction between Hamas and Fatah, and between the Tanzim and Iz a-Din al-Qassam battalions. They are all terrorists, Israel declared.

In honor of the disengagement, Israel decided that it would be best to create some sort of partner to take upon itself at least part of the responsibility for the unilateral withdrawal. Fatah received a certification of kashrut, the PA suddenly ceased to be a terrorist authority and Abu Mazen was quickly elected in democratic elections and became the esteemed president.

The problem is that even the new PA, presided over by friends like Abu Mazen, Mohammed Dahlan, Nasser Yousef and Nasser al-Kidwa, wants more or less what the Hamas desires: A state along the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, without settlements, without surrendering territory and with the release of all prisoners. The differences between Hamas and Fatah now pertain more to the future character of the Palestinian state than to the character of compromise with Israel. After all, that's the nature of democracy.

This is not the democracy that Israel had in mind and, therefore, a warning must be sounded against it. The word "Hamas" has a great intimidating effect and it is easy to brandish it as an excuse to reconsider the question of Palestinian democracy. This is the essence of the catch: Israel is making the continuation of negotiations conditional on democracy in Palestine, but it has to be democracy according to a blueprint prepared in advance. Anything else is out of the question.

This brings us back to Shalom's demand: If it is not Abu Mazen - that is, if Hamas "takes" over, then there will be no disengagement. This formula contradicts the previous one: If there is no democracy, there will be no negotiations.

At this point, a messenger rushes up from a distance, trying to catch his breath, and delivers a reminder to Silvan Shalom: "Don't forget that the disengagement is unilateral. What does Hamas or Fatah have to do with it? After all, the reason we're withdrawing is because we don't want an accord." Signed: Arik.