On Behalf of Hamas - Mahmoud Abbas

Olmert "forgot" and managed to make others forget when the last time was that he made any effort to meet with Abu Mazen or when he responded to a call to him to conduct negotiations.

"To establish a Palestinian state - with Al Quds as its capital," Ismail Haniyeh said about the goals of his government. The ellipsis is not his but will have to be filled in the coming days with the expression "in the 1967 borders" if Haniyeh wants to present himself as the Palestinian partner. That is Israel's condition: it will only talk to those who recognize it and it is only ready to withdraw from those who do not.

But don't worry. Those who closely followed the precisely formulated speech of the Palestinian prime minister at the national dialogue conference that took place in Ramallah and Gaza last Thursday, understood that the missing formulation that he used, could change. The journalistic reports are already quoting Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, who said already on Wednesday that "Hamas does not want to abandon the Arab umbrella," and by saying so more than hinted his movement will be ready to adopt the Beirut declaration of 2002.

Sources in Hamas say that the agreement between Hamas and Fatah, signed late Wednesday night under Egyptian patronage, emphasizes the need to settle the contradiction between Hamas' position and the decision made by the Beirut summit, and that Hamas accepted that formula.

With regard to recognizing Israel, the Beirut declaration speaks of a two-state solution in the '67 borders. Another light push, a little more Egyptian involvement, a meeting between Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Hamas, too, will join the holy formula. But while it is a formula that might guarantee a kashrut certificate, it does not have very much political usefulness.

It's not the formula that matters, but which government is in power in Israel. The detailed, mocking proof of that argument is in the blunt speech delivered in clear, spoken Arabic by Abbas. The Palestinian president did not mince his words when he declared he wants a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders. He did not stutter when he made clear what he means by a just solution to the refugee problem - and yes, financial compensation as far as he is concerned. But Abbas hasn't stuttered and stammered for years, not before Yasser Arafat died and not afterward. He said the same things to Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Tzipi Livni. He will also tell them to Olmert when they meet at Sharm el-Sheikh at the invitation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. So what?

"We can't wait forever for the Palestinians," Olmert explained in his inaugural address to Congress. It's well known that amnesia is not a disease when it comes to politicians. Olmert "forgot" and managed to make others forget when the last time was that he made any effort to meet with Abu Mazen or when he responded to a call to him to conduct negotiations. But when things are said in the right tone, with the appropriate rhetorical resolve, you can sell anything to anyone.

At the end of his speech on Thursday, Abbas warned the Haniyeh government that if the national dialogue does not reach an agreement within 10 days, Abbas will bring the "prisoners' document" to a national referendum. In that document the Palestinians agree to adopt the Beirut declaration, and the idea of two states according to the 1967 borders. Maybe there won't be any need for an extension and the Hamas is already ripe to adopt the prisoners' initiative. The challenge Abbas threw down is enormous: it means a demand to change the political foundations of the Hamas movement or, as Abbas believes, to be ready to completely lose the support of the Palestinian people. But Abbas laid that political mine at Olmert's feet as well. He may find there is no difference between the positions of Hamas and Abbas when it comes to the political arrangements. He might also find that Abu Mazen is speaking in the name of Hamas. Will he then still try to sell the ovation-winning merchandise that there is no Palestinian partner? But wait, a partner to what? Has anyone seen anywhere by chance an alternative plan to the one for a unilateral withdrawal?