Let Hamas Do Its Work

Israel would not be harmed by allowing Hamas ministers to meet in person, rather than by video device, nor would it be harmed by orchestrating an administrative meeting with its Palestinian counterparts.

The only government in the world that manages its affairs via a video device is not in Japan or Korea, nor is it one of the Third World countries that manufacture these machines. The marvel is here, right under our noses. It is the Palestinian government, whose ministers cannot meet face-to-face to discuss, argue and conduct conversations in the corridor, to jointly receive the public or just to gossip. Some of the Palestinian ministers live in Gaza, the others in the West Bank. Under the prohibition imposed by Israel, these ministers can travel to Jordan, Egypt or Saudi Arabia, but not between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel's decision not to negotiate with what is called "the Hamas government," together with Condoleezza Rice's support for this decision (when she declared that it is difficult for her to "imagine negotiating with Hamas"), is now part of the official sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority, in addition to earlier freeze of economic aid.

Let us put aside for a moment the dubious logic that claims there is no basis for discussion of a political solution with a government that does not recognize Israel. But how is this relevant to the ongoing needs of the Palestinian population, the need to take care of a thousand and one everyday problems like the transfer of goods, the opening of border crossings, medical treatment, payments for water and electricity? Even if all of this did not require coordination and cooperation with Israel, it certainly would require the coordinated activity of the Palestinian government, unless Israel seeks to slip into this government's shoes.

Whoever draws encouragement from Rice's remarks and believes that he has found a responsible partner for an illogical stance, would do well to look at what Washington itself does when it finds itself in a position of "no partner." It turns out that when it comes to Iraq, it is permissible to negotiate with the Iranians. When it entails the government of Iraq, it is also possible to speak with what is defined as a Shi'ite or Sunni terror organization. Cordial negotiations with the government of Lebanon, which includes representatives of Hezbollah, is also not foreign or dishonorable in the eyes of Washington.

In the American hierarchy of principles, there is apparently a distinction between righteousness and interests. It is not surprising and is even justified t hat interests take priority. Even Hamas understands this. And not only today. It demonstrated this when it declared the first cease-fire, the hudna, and when it modified the name to tahadiya (calm). It is also acting this way now, as its leaders begin to formulate a "new language" in referring to Israel. Even the chief of staff, Dan Halutz, could no longer ignore the "sweet talk" and now wants to see actions. This formula served well the relationship with the previous Palestinian government, the one that was "worthy" in the eyes of Israel.

Whoever wishes to see actions must enable them to be carried out, especially when the organizations affiliated with Fatah, which recognizes Israel, are resuming acts of terror. Israel would suffer no security damage or political harm if Palestinian ministers were allowed to meet anywhere they wish rather than via a video link. No disaster would occur, and the plan for unilateral convergence would not be hindered one bit if Israel's new ministers soon begin to meet with their Palestinian colleagues - not, heaven forbid, to discuss the convergence plan or jointly forge a political solution, but just to coordinate administrative matters, really.

Hamas would not emerge any stronger from such meetings. After all, they are already the elected government. On the contrary, if it is strengthened by meeting with Israel, this would demonstrate that it recognizes Israel. And there is another latent issue: Rice noted that Washington supported the disengagement plan from Gaza, among other reasons, because what started as a unilateral step "was ultimately coordinated with the Palestinians." This is a not very subtle hint to those who still believe in a unilateral withdrawal or who think that the previous withdrawal was truly unilateral. If this is also going to be the American condition in the future, it would be best to start recognizing the new "non partners."