The establishment of a Palestinian unity government caught the Israeli cabinet both by surprise and entrenched in what, at least in the eyes of world public opinion, was perceived as outright stubbornness and refusal. On the other hand, the Palestinian government, except for the White House, is depicted internationally as a masterpiece of reconciliation, moderation and pragmatism.
In the battle of the minds between Israel and Hamas, the result could not have been more humiliating: 10:0 in favor of Hamas. As noted here in the past, Palestinian unity also serves to create multi-track, international legitimacy.
One country after another has been announcing its willingness to form ties with ministers of the Palestinian government and to ignore its leaning on a radical Islamic movement committed to Israel's destruction. Its founders were successful in bringing in prominent Palestinian figures; many of whom, such as the finance and foreign ministers, are accepted by the Western world.
Return to days of Khartoum Conference
This is, therefore, the most representative, respectable and reliable government the Palestinians have ever had, while at the same time it refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist or reaffirm pledges by former Palestinian governments. From Israel's point of view, this represents a retreat to the days of the Khartoum Conference held at the end of August 1967 following the Six Day War, where Arab statesmen decided to say "no" to recognizing Israel and to making peace with it.
So what's next, what does Israel plan to do?
One option is to continue along the same lines: To deliver vehement speeches, to make further decisions to boycott the Palestinian Authority - but particularly to pray: To pray that not all of Europe will follow Norway by fully recognizing Ismail Haniyeh's government. We should also pray that in the current atmosphere of elections no serious candidate for the US presidency would allow himself to relinquish the Jewish vote by announcing his or her willingness to engage Hamas.
The inevitable outcome of adopting such an option is sweeping international recognition of Hamas as the Palestinian people's only legitimate representative, and pushing Israel into a corner.
The second option is applying military pressure on the Palestinians with the aim of toppling their government. Such a move would have been possible and advisable immediately after the establishment of the first Hamas government, which Fatah was not a partner to. Now that Israel has agreed to a ceasefire in Gaza without bringing Gilad Shalit home, and after Mahmoud Abbas has signed a love covenant with Hamas, the military option is off the agenda.
Direct talks with Haniyeh
What remains is the third option, the only realistic one at this point in time: Engaging in diplomatic dialogue with the incumbent government. In short and simply put: Negotiations with Hamas.
Resting on the prime minister's shoulders is the responsibility for the fate of the nation and not his own popularity, as stated in his speech. So let Ehud Olmert rise up and tell the citizens of Israel the truth: As we have failed in curbing Hamas, and as Abbas has turned out to be a statesman who dances to the tune played by Hamas, Israel is engaging in direct talks with Ismail Haniyeh and his cabinet.
We shall cease to boycott it, enter negotiations and put it to the test of our diplomatic demands. Not out of love for Hamas, but rather, because this is the only way we can retake the initiative and justify our position. This is a very difficult option but better than the others.
"Don't be misled," Olmert told the nations of the world Sunday. This is a just call but it lacks a solution: We cannot be held hostage to the whims of the West.