It looks like they lost the farm.

The reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas surprised Mahmoud Abbas as well as Israelis. Fatah''s leadership had signed a draft agreement in 2009, and Hamas'' signing on this week came out of the blue. Or, on the basis of a post hoc analysis, it followed the realization by Hamas'' leadership that they were being weakened by the shaky nature of the Syrian regime, which has provided a home for their hard line Diaspora leadership, and that the new leadership in Cairo might be warmer to Palestine, but not necessarily to Islam. By this reasoning, Hamas might gain something by posturing in behalf of Palestinian unity.

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Two days after the news of the agreement, most, but not all of the Israeli elite is supporting the view that with Hamas associated with Fatah, there is no point in talking with any Palestinians. The most prominent indicator is Shimon Peres. He is the marker for Israelis willing to go an extra kilometer for peace, and seeing good prospects in virtually everything said by Palestinians who can be considered moderate.


Peres has called the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation a "fatal mistake" that could prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

As far as one can tell from murky reports, the reconciliation agreement has been signed by representatives of Hamas and Fatah, but not ratified. Whatever "ratification" means in political regimes that carry only the forms but not the essence of modern governments, there are indications that the proclamation of reconciliation will not survive. Already leading Fatah people from the West Bank and Hamas counterparts from Gaza are saying entirely different things about the relevance of the agreement for matters of key importance.

Fatah people are saying that they will handle peace negotiations, and have not departed from their recognition of Israel''s legitimacy and their rejection of violence. Hamas people are reiterating their denial of Israel''s legitimacy, and are saying that they will allow Fatah to negotiate only those issues with Israel that are stupid, silly, or trivial.

Shaul Mofaz is a former head of the IDF and later Defense Minister, and currently second in the leadership of the opposition party Kadima, which claims to be more reasonable than Likud in things Palestinian. When he was interviewed about the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, he said that it makes Fatah equally responsible with Hamas for whatever happens in Gaza. When asked if that meant rockets coming out of Gaza might be met with an Israeli attack on the Palestinians'' West Bank capital of Ramallah, he did not deny the possibility.

The Palestinian leadership is in a hole that may not be an abyss, but is deep enough to make us wonder about its future.

They may achieve a majority vote in the United Nations General Assembly endorsing a state, with borders of 1967 and a capital in Jerusalem, but the declaration will have no force on the ground, or in whatever is meant by the fuzzy concept of "international law."

The big powers that are relevant to Palestine (i.e., first of all Israel, plus the United States, Germany, Britain and France) are on record as defining Hamas as terrorist, and outside the pale of relevant participants. Some of those may express a willingness to test Hamas'' intentions, but recent rocket attacks and the use of an anti-tank missile against an Israeli school bus will keep the organization on Israel''s boycott pending a severe test of good faith.

The slogan "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity" is not relevant to this Palestinian fillip, insofar as there does not seem to have been an opportunity that the Palestinians missed. The Netanyahu government has not been forthcoming with further offers, or even a repeat of what Ehud Olmert offered and Abbas rejected. Abbas has said that there is no reason to negotiate with Netanyahu.

Abbas’ recent interview with Newsweek indicates that he feels left out in the cold by the Obama administration. Charging the American president, in that prominent forum with having led him to an extreme position and then abandoning him, may not gain Abbas any further credit with the White House. And unless the American president takes a position as politically risky as abandoning the war on terror, Washington will have a great problem continuing to work with a Palestinian leadership that includes Hamas. An official has already indicated that the Administration is reconsidering its economic aid to the Palestinians in light of the reconciliation.

Americans concerned with the future of Israel and Palestine might turn their attention to baseball. I used to root for the Boston Braves, which renders me as irrelevant to that pastime as the Palestinians may have become to the idea of a real state.


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