If There's No Tomorrow, Let Him Go Home Today

Instead of attacking France and others trying to promote an agreement with Hamas, the decision makers in Israel would do better to use every means possible to strengthen Fatah.

According to the newspaper, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will ask tomorrow for clarifications from her French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, regarding Paris' unofficial contacts with Hamas. Jerusalem officials reminded him that Israel, the United States and the European Union had agreed there would be no talks with the organization until it recognized Israel.

Kouchner need not fear. All he has to do is to put the end of the same article on Livni's desk. It states that two days ago, Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon accused her of conducting negotiations with Hamas, together with the prime minister and the defense minister, in contradiction of government policy. Ramon was, of course, referring to the tahadiyeh (temporary cease-fire) agreement that is now being formulated with Egyptian mediation and to the contacts Livni is conducting for the release of Gilad Shalit.

Ramon called on his friends from Kadima "to stop the victory parade of radical Islam." Apparently he has learned something from Hamas' victory parades the day after the unilateral disengagement from Gaza and the parliamentary elections. In fact, every such parade has meant a mourning procession in the pragmatic Islamic camp, which Ramon and his friends have reinstated as the "two states for two nations" club. If the Israeli government continues to decide on its moves based on the headline of the next news bulletin, Hamas may soon be marching to the Muqata in Ramallah as well.

The indirect negotiations with Hamas for a tahadiyeh agreement is a necessity that should not be condemned. The Qassam strikes on Sderot and Ashkelon and the continued siege of Gaza will soon lead to a reoccupation of the Strip. A tahadiyeh is a suitable bargain compared to the price that Israel would have to pay for a military operation in the dark alleys of the refugee camps in the Strip. In addition to a heavy loss of life, Israel is liable to once and for all lose what is left of the Palestinian partner.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had a reason for informing U.S. President George W. Bush during their meeting in Washington last month that he supported an agreement between Israel and Hamas. The Palestinian president knows it is impossible to restore Fatah rule in Gaza on the chains of Israel Defense Forces tanks. He also knows that a peace agreement that is signed in the midst of fighting in the south is useless.

It's a shame that the Olmert government is being dragged into the tahadiyeh as though seized by the devil, instead of being seen as the one dictating the conditions.

In this way, it is bestowing on Hamas additional public opinion points, just when the organization was losing its popularity in the wake of the prolonged siege. There is no escaping the fact that Hamas will get a tahadiyeh without paying for it by recognizing Israel and adopting the agreements it signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization. But that is not enough for Hamas.

Hamas wants to use Gilad Shalit to expose the nakedness of its internal rivals, those who recognized Israel and who are talking with Israel about dividing the land. That is why Hamas placed Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, of all people, at the top of the list of prisoners it wants Israel to release in exchange for the captive soldier. Recent polls in the territories point to Barghouti as the most popular leader among the Palestinian public.

Noam Shalit said yesterday on the radio that the prime minister promised him that he would not participate in any agreement with Hamas that did not include the release of his son. It is hard to decide which option is worse: for Olmert to block the efforts to achieve the tahadiyeh and drag the IDF into a disaster in Gaza, or to grant Hamas its parade of prisoners, headed by the esteemed Barghouti, on the grave of the PA.

Instead of attacking France and others trying to promote an agreement with Hamas, the decision makers in Israel would do better to use every means possible to strengthen Fatah. The most effective means is, of course, accelerated achievement toward a final-status solution that will end the occupation. In the prime minister's situation, he does not have the power to force the evacuation of even a single outpost and the removal of checkpoints. But a leader who behaves as though there is no tomorrow has to go home - today.