Here Comes the Next No Partner'

Why would someone who has no intention of conducting negotiations with the Palestinians care whether they hold their elections on schedule or postpone them until an unknown date?

Why would someone who has no intention of conducting negotiations with the Palestinians care whether they hold their elections on schedule or postpone them until an unknown date? Why would a proponent of the unilateral option care whether Hamas or Fatah wins the elections? And why is the question of whether citizens of the "Palestinian exile" in Jerusalem vote in the Palestinian Authority elections even relevant for someone who will never, ever divide Jerusalem?

These questions call for an answer in light of the exultation of fans of the conspiracy theory, who explain that Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the U.S. and even the European Union have plotted together to postpone the Palestinian parliamentary elections in order to prevent a Hamas victory. There is no doubt that the postponement of the elections would block Hamas' next political achievement, but this would really not change anything because Israel is starting to lose the flexibility of the "no partner" option - an option that has served in many cases as an excuse for not conducting negotiations. The beauty of this option was that Israel could conjure up a partner every time it was convenient - Abu Mazen, the Dahlan and Rajoub bunch - and even toy with the thought of using Marwan Barghouti whenever it so wished. Bring him from prison and - voila, here's a partner. On the other hand, whenever it wanted, Israel could adopt the wonderful slogan: "There's no partner." The ownership rights for this partnership were always held by Israel.

This option is disappearing, if it has not already vanished completely, following the strategic decision by Hamas that the time has come to conquer the political front in the territories and not only contribute blood to the armed struggle. Its ability to maintain absolute discipline in its ranks, its power to mobilize, and its subordination to an authorized and accepted leadership, have sharpened its advantages over the Palestinian Authority and, in particular, vis-a-vis Fatah. Its consent to a cease-fire, under Egyptian pressure, also immediately created a balance of deterrence between it and Israel, which understood that it no longer controls the agenda of escalation.

The financial resources of Hamas, which have not been blocked, enabled it to continue to provide a reasonable level of services to the population, and the Israeli government's abusive treatment of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian civilians completed the work. Hamas, even if it does not win an absolute majority in parliament, will be the leading political force that, at best, will "only" control an obstructionist bloc. At worst, it will be the deciding majority.

In this entire development, Israel has no status or power to create change. Israel lost it during the past year when it decided to ignore Mahmoud Abbas in the same way that it had ignored Yasser Arafat. Any gesture Israel seeks to make toward Abbas - and it is not revealing any such intentions - would be immediately interpreted as intervention in the Palestinian elections. These elections suddenly appear to be a two-edged sword, as the demand for democratization exposed, as expected, all of Israel's nakedness. The result is that in response to Israel's unilateral step and policy of keeping the "yes partner, no partner" option open, the Palestinian public (as opposed to its leadership) is making its own unilateral move in voting for Hamas: There will not be any partner, and it does not matter at all whether the elections are held according to schedule or not. No Palestinian leadership will be able to ignore the status of Hamas any longer.

There only remains this issue of elections in Jerusalem - the little ladder that will enable Abbas to postpone the elections. And what a surprise: Hamas does not care at all whether there will be elections in Jerusalem or not - it wants elections now. The national issue, the participation of several thousand Palestinian citizens in the elections, is less pressing. This is because Hamas wants to be Israel's next "no partner." This is the appropriate Palestinian national response in Hamas' perspective.

Thus, the Israeli option will close for a long time, because anyone seeking a diplomatic process will have to talk with Hamas also. In the very same way, anyone seeking to neutralize Iranian nuclear weapons will have to talk with Ahmadinejad, and anyone wishing to strengthen the government of Lebanon will have to talk with Hezbollah. For someone who is not interested in a diplomatic process, it does not matter in any case whether Hamas or someone else controls the Palestinian Authority.