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The defense establishment is bracing for an upturn in Hamas terrorism after the planned January 25 elections if anarchy in Gaza prevents the elections from being completed.
According to this scenario, though the elections are likely to take place as scheduled, there is a huge question mark over whether the results would be compiled or publicized in the current anarchic situation there.
In this situation, according to a Defense Ministry official apprised of a discussion on the matter held Tuesday evening, Israel's concern was that Hamas would then vent its frustration at Israel.
This was one of the scenarios Israel's security brass was expected to discuss Thursday morning with senior US officials Elliott Abrams and David Welch.
Abrams, the White House's deputy national security adviser, and Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, arrived Wednesday afternoon for two days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials to nail down details of the upcoming Palestinian elections and prepare for the day after.
Another scenario that could lead to a terrorist backlash against Israel, the official said, would be if Hamas garnered less than 30 percent of the vote, something it would deem as an election failure.
Paradoxically, the one scenario that would not likely trigger an immediate wave of Hamas terror would be if Hamas received more than 30% of the vote. According to some opinions raised at Tuesday's meeting at the Defense Ministry, this could have a moderating impact on the organization.
Though Israel would not then necessarily face a wave of terror, it would place the country in a dilemma as to whether to deal with a Palestinian Authority that included Hamas as a government member.
Israel's position, according to the official, is clear: It will not deal with a terrorist organization calling for its destruction. The official said that PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas had given commitments that he would disarm Hamas after the elections, commitments that Israel was taking - because of past experiences - with a heavy dose of skepticism.
Meanwhile, the cabinet is scheduled to vote Sunday on whether Palestinians will be able to vote in east Jerusalem post offices, something that is widely considered to already be a foregone conclusion.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a phone conversation Wednesday he would submit for cabinet approval the issue of voting by several hundred eastern Jerusalem Arabs at post offices, although he said it would be clear that Hamas "personnel and materials" would be unable to be a part of the elections in Jerusalem.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said during a tour of Rahat Wednesday that Olmert had accepted his recommendation to allow the voting in east Jerusalem, but not the participation of Hamas in the campaign or the election itself.
One Defense Ministry official said this meant it was unlikely that Hamas ballots would be allowed in the post offices where the elections were to be carried out.
Abrams and Welch were scheduled to visit last week, but postponed their trip because of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's illness.
One diplomatic official said that the two US officials - scheduled to leave for Washington early Saturday morning - were hoping to return to the US capital with a clear message for the administration of exactly "how this thing will work." The two are scheduled to meet with Olmert, in his first high-level diplomatic meeting with foreign guests, on Friday morning, followed by a meeting with Abbas.
On Thursday morning Abrams and Welch are scheduled to get an exhaustive briefing of the security situation in the run-up to the election, and scenarios of what will be afterward, at separate meetings with Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, head of the ministry's military/political policy bureau Amos Gilad, Mofaz and Mossad head Meir Dagan.
Following their meeting with Israeli security officials, Abrams and Welch are scheduled to get a Palestinian perspective from PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, former finance minister Salam Fayyad, former PA minister Muhammad Dahlan and PA National Security Adviser Jibril Rajoub.
They are also scheduled to meet with Sharon's top adviser, Dov Weisglass.
In a related development, former US president Jimmy Carter has informed the Israeli consulate in Atlanta that he will come to the area as part of a National Democratic Institute (NDI)/Carter Center team to help monitor the elections, just as he did during the elections for chairman last year, and during the last Palestinian legislative elections in 1996.
The NDI/Carter Center put out a "pre-election assessment" of the elections last Friday in which it called on Israel to allow elections in east Jerusalem, but also took the Palestinians to task for Hamas's participation in the balloting.
Regarding the Hamas issue, the report stated that "while it is in the long-term interest of Palestinian democratic development, and likely in the long-term security interests of Israel, that a wide spectrum of groups participate in lawful and peaceful political processes, Hamas's current political participation, while simultaneously advocating violence, undermines a fundamental principle of democratic elections."