Having argued consistently for nearly half a decade that the Palestinians' real leaders are not the PA, but Hamas ("Let Hamas rule," August 10, 2001), Middle Israel was neither surprised by nor unprepared for its formal election last week. Others, however, were compelled to offer strange rationales with which they still hoped to somehow preserve their dated ideas. On the Left, Yossi Beilin was saying, even as exit polls were indicating a major Hamas gain, that Israel must now rush to strike a deal with the manifestly abandoned Mahmoud Abbas. And on the Right, Silvan Shalom scolded the government for having allowed Hamas's participation in the election; as a terror organization, he explained, Hamas could have been barred from running according to the Oslo Accords, not to mention post-9/11 international norms. How ironic that these otherwise diametrically opposed ideologues finally meet, even if in the netherworld of political denial. Beilin and Shalom both believe Israel can, and should, manipulate the genuine Palestinian political will, whether for the sake of imposing our neighbors' accommodation with us or prolonging our occupation of them. The denial reflex is also shared, again for different reasons, by Europe and the US. The former can't bring itself to concede that the Palestinian public has just emphatically stated that it is nasty regardless of Israel's deeds or misdeeds, and that confronting it has become imperative not just for Israel, but for anyone who shares the Western quest for freedom, pluralism and life. The US, at the same time, has been confounded in its axiom that people do not freely vote for belligerence. Well, while it's still true that no two democracies have ever seriously fought each other, the Palestinian election must be taken for what it is: a fairly contested vote for war. And then there is Mahmoud Abbas himself, the political eunuch who rolled out the red carpet ahead of Hamas's marching victors. Now this caricature of a leader says he wants a "technocrats' cabinet," i.e. another shenanigan whereby Hamas is mechanically denied the power that the people have so unequivocally granted it. Hovering above all this is a silly debate over the causes of Hamas's success. Here, my colleague from Haaretz Akiva Eldar insists that then-premier Binyamin Netanyahu's cornering of Yasser Arafat is the original sin behind Hamas's victory, while Netanyahu himself argues that the disengagement is what handed Hamas its victory. The prosaic fact is that Hamas won regardless of us; it won because the Palestinian leaders who went to Oslo never began to even reluctantly reeducate their people to stop hating Jews, to accept them as worthy neighbors and to respect them as indigenous inhabitants in their ancestral land. That is what recognition is about, that is what our interlocutors remain light years from, and that is what will continue to stand between us and them for many years to come. BEING THE pragmatists they are, Middle Israelis take what happened last week with no grain of salt. The way they see it, the choice made by the Palestinian voter was genuine, fair, and unstoppable by any external trickery. It would have been disastrous to adopt Shalom's suggestion to keep Hamas out of the process, let alone by an administrative decree, particularly one inspired by foreign demand, and not just foreign - but American. In case the former foreign minister does not know, such an intrusion has already been attempted once, in Algeria, following the election there in 1992, with catastrophic results. In that contest - the first ever truly free and fair Arab election - everything was right from a Western viewpoint except the winner: The Islamic Salvation Front. And so, in typically colonial arrogance and tunnel vision, the relevant Western powers, France and the US, allowed - some say ordered - a local junta to annul the election. The result was one of the worst post-colonial civil wars, and a massively fueled Islamist fury across the Arab world. At the time, US diplomat Edward Djerejian noted that the Algerian democratic will could not be compared with, say, post-apartheid South Africa's, since what the Islamists espoused was not "one man, one vote," but "one man, one vote, one time." While nice as a pun, that attitude still could not justify that election's annulment, just like a thief cannot be tried, let alone sentenced, before he actually steals. And that is why in our situation, too, the rightful winner of the Palestinian election must now be made to rule. The worst thing that happened back when Yasser Arafat ran for election in 1995 was that Hamas did not run. Yes, the Beilins of the world had a good time deluding themselves that Arafat's handsome defeat of feminist pioneer and political anecdote Samiha Khalil (who has since then died in complete obscurity) amounted to a democratic choice. It didn't. The real rival was Ahmed Yassin, whose sway and outlook eventually overshadowed the ostensibly empowered Arafat's. Had Yassin run against Arafat, the winner would have had the popular license with which to confront the loser. Having not run, Yassin enjoyed the luxury of maximum power and minimum responsibility. This is what we would now be in for if Beilin and Shalom had it their way last week, and this is what now awaits us if Abbas is to have it his way next week. Maximum power and minimum responsibility is also what many in Hamas still seek, as they grimly fathom the prospect of being expected to deliver not just funerals for the Jews, but also jobs, housing, utilities, hospitals, universities and dignity for the Palestinians. Now everyone should hold the Palestinian political system to its democratic obligation and make Hamas lead it. Let them come from behind the PA's apron. Yes, Europe's wishful thinking that these child sacrificers will transfigure to civic humanists is likely to be quickly refuted. Yet the PA's newly elected leaders will also make it simpler for Israelis to understand whom they have business with, and how to conduct it. This is not to say there is no hope. Some day, a critical mass of Palestinians will understand that their lives were abandoned to the devices of medieval clerics, not because the Israelis did or didn't do anything, but because those Palestinians who did cherish life, prosperity, freedom, creativity and pluralism spent too much time demonizing Zionism, and too little standing up to Islamism. When that day arrives, so will peace.