Israel's Mummified Policy

Israel is nurturing its "vision" of harming the pockets of the Hamas authority, a move it thinks will instigate a public movement against Hamas and bring it down.

Dr. Ghazi Hamed is one of the Hamas movement's new appointments. His job is government spokesman, and his skills are mostly journalistic. But Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh found it particularly important to emphasize the fact that his spokesman is fluent in two foreign languages: Hebrew and English. Those are two vitally important languages for Hamas' latest goals: a discourse with the U.S. and Israel.

There is no importance to the feeble denials PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar made about a "mistake" in the missive he sent to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan about readiness for good neighborly relations with the countries around the PA, meaning Israel. Such letters go through close scrutiny before they are sent. There is, on the other hand, tremendous importance in Haniyeh's statement that he has not forbidden any of his people to speak with Israel about ongoing issues concerning the management of Palestinian affairs.

True, in its great desire to solve the refugee problem, Israel has no Palestinian partner. It also has no partner in its equally strong aspiration to draw its borders as it wishes. Right now, it seems Hamas can help Israel liberate itself "only" from the direct occupation, the tedious handling of the food trucks, the distribution of medicines - and in general, the maintenance of the occupation.

But even for that, it needs to skip a few stages in the foreplay. This is the same game that has characterized its behavior since 1967, until it lost its policy. When Israel finally understood it was preferable for King Hussein to take the West Bank, it was too late - just like it missed its opportunity when Yasser Arafat still was in a position of "willing and able." And when Abu Mazen tried to speak with Israel sincerely, it rushed ahead with the unilateral withdrawal and shoved him into a corner like an old toy.

The same method is being pulled out now for Hamas, even though there are those, like Amir Peretz, who still believe that it is somehow possible to restore Abu Mazen's fading color. But anyone who studies photos of the Palestinian Authority chairman will notice a tiny tear welling in the corner of his eye, because Abu Mazen's position now is similar to that of Shimon Peres' in Sharon's government: a mannequin in a shop window. He's the one sent to speak with everyone and everyone is ready to speak with to him - only there's nothing to talk about.

And it is not only because Israel does not want to offer anything, but because Abu Mazen has been left with no forces. He can't pay salaries to the armed forces or the Palestinian officials, so he can't give the order. The relative quiet is in the hands of Ismail Haniyeh, but he too will lose control when those who support their families on PA salaries go unpaid.

Meanwhile, Israel is nurturing its "vision" of harming the pockets of the Hamas authority, a move it thinks will instigate a public movement against Hamas and bring it down. In the blink of an eye, it has been forgotten that precisely such a hard-handed policy played a substantial contribution to the rise of Hamas. But let's assume that somehow the Israeli sanctions amazingly succeed: By Israel's own declarations the policy is meant to change the principles of Hamas and not replace them with Abu Mazen. Moreover, whether it is being politically wise, opportunistic, or has truly seen the light, Hamas might actually adopt the two-state idea, as hinted in Zahar's letter, thus recognizing Israel.

And then what? There won't be anything to prevent the transfer of funds, which would strengthen the position of Hamas and enable it to run the population's affairs effectively even if it hasn't yet liberated the occupied territories. Thus the Israeli bluff would be exposed, while Hamas would win international legitimacy for its continued rule.

Israel can influence the direction of these processes, and for that purpose it must start speaking with Hamas. But Israeli inflexibility does not allow for change, and the country continues to adopt mummified policies.