I read the Arabic text of the “Cairo statement”… The best man is Egypt. The happy couple are Abu Mazen on the one hand, and Hamas and the other extremist Palestinian organizations on the other. What did I learn from it? The bottom line is: it’s very good for Hamas, it’s good for Abu Mazen, but it’s not good for Israel.

The crumb which is thrown to Israel is “the atmosphere of calm will continue”, but even this is like being under the “protection” of the mafia. If you, Israel, don’t want us to burn your store, you had better pay us. You have to pay us the following: release all the prisoners, including Hamas members with blood on their hands, halt all activity against Palestinians wherever they are, stop building the fence, halt all activity in East Jerusalem and the settlements.

Hamas leaders defined the present as “the period which allows the warriors to rest” (to recover from the blows inflicted by the IDF and recoup its losses in men and weapons). But Hamas, under Egypt’s auspices, secured an additional series of gains. First of all, the statement mentions the principle of “the Palestinian right to resistance, to bring about the end of the occupation.” In the Palestinian code this means that the use of violence as an operational strategy will continue. In other words, this is not an announcement of an end to the Intifada and a cessation in principle of the terror. Secondly, it states that the Palestinian Authority will not under any circumstances use force against Hamas and the other terror groups. Third, Hamas achieves a political gain of the first order: Abu Mazen undertook to change the parliamentary elections law so that Hamas can also participate and to change the constitution of the PLO so that Hamas can join it too.

The meaning of these three achievements is clear and sharp: there is no intention of disarming Hamas. Just the opposite, Hamas earns legitimacy. It is about to become an inseparable part of the Palestinian Authority. Encouraged by its successes in the last local elections, and smiling over the internal rifts in Fatah, which was its main rival in the elections for parliament last June-Hamas is about to become the most significant factor in the Palestinian Authority. Yossi Sarid, I believe, once said, “those who don’t want Arafat will get Hamas.” And now we may be getting Hamas.

Abu Mazen is succeeding in his strategy, at present: To divert world attention from terrorism to the need to reach a final status arrangement quickly and establish a Palestinian state. In our media-based world, it is enough for Abu Mazen to achieve a statement of calm (not even a cease-fire!) from the terror organizations in order to convey the message to the Israelis and the world: There is quiet, there is calm, there is no terrorism, so let’s move forward, to the political negotiations on the final status arrangement, immediately after the disengagement from Gaza, including the right of return of the refugees to their homes.

Israel can take comfort in the fact that Hamas may, perhaps, be so kind as to maintain the calm so as not to sabotage its achievement of joining the PLO, and take part in the parliamentary elections. This is an important short-term comfort. Taking a slightly more long-term perspective: With Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, the chances of any political compromise are close to zero.

This piece ran in Maariv of March 18th, 2005

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