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Ha'aretz: "How to beat Hamas" by Akiva Eldar

This is the time to prove to the Palestinian voters that the way of getting Israel out of the territories is not through exchanging fire, which harms civilians, but through exchanges between leaders.


By Akiva Eldar

Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel and yesterday shots were fired from its territory at a Border Police patrol north of Eilat. Shots were fired from Syria at an Israeli unit and Katyusha rockets from Lebanon struck the center of Nahariya. Turkey is furious, Saudi Arabia is boiling and Qatar is boycotting Israel.

And the West Bank - the people closest to the hundreds of dead and thousands of injured in the Gaza Strip - is exhibiting restraint. Even in the streets of East Jerusalem and Lod there is more tension than in the alleys of Jenin and Ramallah. Israel's security forces had prepared for the possibility that clashes would spread throughout the occupied territories, but they have been left idle. Palestinian Authority policemen are doing the work for them. Officers who ridiculed the security forces of the PA are now lauding their actions and commitment to their task.

The quiet in the West Bank undermines the argument raised by those opposed to the land-for-peace formula, who claimed that withdrawing from the outskirts of Nablus will have the same effect on Kfar Sava and Netanya as the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip has had on Sderot and Be'er Sheva. The difference between the calm in the West Bank and the war in the Gaza Strip can only prove that withdrawing from territories without an agreement, and imposing a siege on a million and a half people, are acts of folly that have no relation to peace agreements and security arrangements.

The brutal war that Israel is conducting in the Gaza Strip against Hamas is the toughest trial the Palestinian Authority's leadership has faced since the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Yasser Arafat rode on the outburst of public discontent that followed the failure of the Camp David summit and Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, and played into the hands of those who sought to strip his faction of the status of "partner." Mahmoud Abbas blocked the protests in the West Bank after the heavy bombing of the Gaza Strip, and to date has proved that he is indeed worthy of such standing.

The Hamas declaration that last Friday the tenure of Abbas as President of Palestine had come to an end failed, so far, to leave an impression on the residents of the West Bank. In view of the blows that the Gaza Strip has suffered since Hamas won the parliamentary elections of January 2006, they are not yearning to see Ismail Haniyeh at the Muqata in Ramallah.

For how long will Abbas be the one who does our dirty work? How long will his police officers agree to cooperate with the occupying authorities?

Operation Cast Lead is giving Sharon's heirs a unique opportunity to pick up the pieces that their hero left behind. This is the time to correct the mistakes that contributed to the Hamas victory in the elections, and brought disaster to the children of the Negev and the Gaza Strip. Fatah will not return to Gaza on top of the Israeli tanks that destroyed their neighborhoods. Fatah needs to return on the construction cranes that will rebuild the ruins. The Palestinian Authority must be the one that leads this move, before billions flow from the Iranians to Hamas, as in Lebanon the day after the war against Hezbollah. The Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, said on Monday that he has already contacted Arab states and the international community on this matter.

This is the time to ask Egypt to grant Abbas a central role in the efforts to bring about a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and open the crossings. If Abbas brings the poor residents of Gaza the news of a cease-fire, he will enjoy great support from them.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a great supporter (in the past) of unilateralism, should not only tell us whom she is not willing to talk with on the future of Gaza. Let her talk with those she is willing to talk to. The positive half of her statement yesterday, that "we are holding a dialogue with the moderates, and using force against the extremists," lacks any manifestation. The year of dialogue she has led for a permanent settlement has not moved us an inch toward agreement.

This is the time to prove to the Palestinian voters that the way of getting Israel out of the territories is not through exchanging fire, which harms civilians, but through exchanges between leaders. This is the time to show the Israeli voter that there is a reliable Palestinian partner to the division of the territory. Any other outcome to Operation Cast Lead will mean a clear victory for Hamas.