There are no candidates running for Palestinian Authority chairman who stand any real chances of winning aside from Mahmoud Abbas, and it is no coincidence that he has kept as low a profile as possible [and will continue to do so] until the elections early in January. He already knows what everyone will know once he is elected: he cannot deliver the goods.

Abu Mazen planned to reach an agreement with the various Palestinian factions about a cease-fire, even a temporary one-something between a cursory hudna and a fragile pledge of honor-so as to allow him to begin negotiations from a position of personal power, and as someone capable of serving as a source of authority. By so doing, Abu Mazen presumed to achieve what Yasser Arafat already knew was impossible in the years of the Intifada. That is why he traveled to Syria, to Lebanon and to Gaza, and used pleasantries in an attempt to win over the leaders of the factions that do not belong to the PLO, mainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The answer he received from the Hamas representatives both in Damascus and in the territories was an unqualified no. They are prepared to agree to a cease-fire, but only on their conditions, which turns Abu Mazen’s balance of power upside down: Israel will first have to withdraw from all the territories, release all 8,000 Palestinian prisoners it has incarcerated, including the most murderous of terrorists, and only then will the organization be prepared to accept a cease-fire. It is clear to all that those conditions are unacceptable, and their only purpose is to embarrass Abu Mazen and to cast him as impotent. The continued Palestinian rocket and mortar fire on Sderot and the settlements in the Gaza Strip serve a similar purpose. It is a show of presence that will only grow in volume, and it is directed not only against Israel but also against Abu Mazen’s efforts. Moreover, Hamas is now considering renewing terror attacks inside Israel, after they agreed to stop them during the 40-day mourning period for Arafat, looking ahead to the future.

It is clear to Hamas that a resumption of terror attacks will embarrass Abu Mazen even before the elections, and that those terror attacks could have an immediate strategic impact. As such, the chances of Abu Mazen successfully achieving a comprehensive Palestinian cease-fire agreement are slim.

Israel, which had hoped for a successful and coordinated withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, for good will gestures, for opening the sea port and many other things, could find itself facing disengagement under fire, irrespective of the Palestinian Authority, which could go back to being irrelevant. Given the current development of circumstances, that ought to be the IDF’s working assumption as it prepares for disengagement, and not any of those optimistic assumptions about “windows of opportunity,” that have been reported by senior cabinet ministers.

Israel, which nowadays is continuing skillfully to deceive itself, brings to mind the old Arab tale about a man whose children are pestering him. To get rid of them he tells them to run to the center of the village, where candies are being given out for free. After they dash off and disappear he says to himself: “they’re going to eat all the candy and nothing will be left for me,” and runs to the village center himself.

This article ran in Yediot Aharonot on December 23rd, 2004