The establishment of a Hamas-Fatah Palestinian unity government and Hamas' announcement that the movement's stance is about to change make it necessary for Israel's cabinet to reconsider its policies regarding the Palestinian question.
Besides Hamas' moderate statements serving to placate Israel, they are primarily aimed at winning the support of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait, which would help pave the way to American recognition and assist the new government. This is also the reason why the Palestinian Foreign Ministry and Treasury were manned by familiar figures who would be welcomed by Western states.
The Palestinians are currently seeking a diplomatic solution that would be reached within the framework of regional talks between Israel and the Arab states, rather than through direct Israeli-Palestinian talks.
The Palestinian strategy – namely, support of a diplomatic settlement based on a regional formula – is derived from the political and military developments prevalent in the area since the American invasion of Iraq.
The American entrenchment in the Iraqi quagmire and Iran's increasing involvement in conflict areas in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank; the regional conference in Baghdad attended by Iran, Syria and the US, and Saudi Arabia's vigorous political activities aimed at reaching a peace settlement between Israel and the Arab states along with a solution to the Palestinian issue - are prominent signs of these developments.
It is reasonable to assume that Hamas and the Palestinian unity government are interested in adopting the Saudi initiative. This initiative weakens Israel's ability - in any future settlement - to dictate conditions unacceptable to the Palestinians, and places the burden of inevitable Palestinian concessions on additional Arab shoulders. Acceptance of the Saudi initiative will also help the Palestinian government in gaining international recognition.
Syrian window of opportunity at stake
Most importantly, the quicker the Palestinians rush to embrace the Saudi initiative, the sooner Israel's window of opportunity with Syria will close, as there is no Israeli government in the offing that would negotiate painful withdrawal on both fronts simultaneously.
Israel will soon be faced with an historic decision. It will not be able to stand at a crossroads without having to turn towards either the Palestinian or Syrian avenues.
What's the best option? Syria first or bleeding Palestine? Israel is still at the helm and has the opportunity to decide which path to take.
If it procrastinates, foreign policemen will arrive and direct the traffic as they see fit. We mustn't forget: In Mideast reality what is unacceptable one day becomes obvious the next.
Shaul Mishal is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University