Chaos, poverty and desperation on this side of the Green Line is not a recipe for salvation in Israel. Israel over the years has been, through design, instrumental in bringing the occupied Palestinian territory to its current catastrophic situation. All along, Israel was, and still is, working to annex more and more Palestinian territory and water resources. To this end, it employs all means to make sure of two things: One, the territory it annexes is empty of Palestinians, two: that the Palestinians remain so weak that they do not pose any strategic threat to Israel. Most recently, this has manifested itself in what Israel terms unilateral disengagement and convergence. It prepared for this by weakening President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, it spread the notion that there is no Palestinian partner. Through its unilateral action, and ignoring president Abbas's persistent calls on Israel to resume peace negotiations, it paved the way for the election of Hamas and the formation of a Hamas government. At the same time, Israel choked the Palestinian economy, erected hundreds of checkpoints to isolate Palestinian communities in towns, villages, and cities and never stopped its aggressive campaign of targeted killings and arrests. This combined policy of not responding to Abbas's calls for the resumption of peace talks, and the continuing suffering of the Palestinian people, provided Hamas with the much-needed help to win the elections and form the government. Hamas itself did not expect this landslide victory. With the election of Hamas, a new phase emerged. Hamas, considered by the US and the West as a terrorist organization, is helping Israel achieve its other objective, the complete devastation of the Palestinian economy and reducing the Palestinian public into a state of poverty and helplessness. Should the suspension of financial assistance and support continue into the future, it is likely that unemployment will skyrocket, the Palestinian education and health sector will crumble, crime rates will increase. Chaos and civil disorder may engulf the Palestinian territory and perhaps beyond. This is not in the interest of anyone, including Israel, as it would strengthen extremist forces inside and outside, render any prospects for achieving peace more remote, increase hate, motivate violence and enlarge areas of instability. Is this what the international community wants? Does it know the implications of this situation for neighboring Arab countries and people? And what would this do to Arab-Muslim relations with the West? LET US CONSIDER the alternative: negotiating with Abbas, in his capacity as president of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and the elected president of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas is ready to immediately resume negotiations with the Israeli government, bearing in mind that negotiating with Israel is still the mandate of the PLO, which signed all previous agreements with Israel. As he said in a speech in Stockholm last week, "Resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the path to resolving many conflicts in our region. To resolve the conflict, occupiers and the occupied should not be left alone. An international conference should be convened immediately, in which direct negotiations take place on the basis of relevant UN resolutions and signed agreements. President Abbas added: "We yearn to establish a Palestinian state that epitomizes our people's right to self-determination. It shall be a haven for stability and safety, true to democratic practice, living in harmony, peace and having good neighborly relations with all the region's countries and people, including Israel." A negotiated solution is the objective. We are at a crossroads; we can either grasp the moment, begin negotiations and arrive at a comprehensive peace agreement acceptable to both peoples, or head toward another 50 years of devastating conflict. Abbas made his choice and opted for a negotiated, just peace with Israel. It is now Israel's turn, either to reciprocate by extending its hand to the president and the Palestinian people, showing respect, acknowledging Palestinian rights, and raising hopes for peace, or by opting for more long years of conflict. I urge the international community, represented by the Quartet, to assume its responsibility and duty, to work as a broker and arbitrator for the peace process, ensure adherence to UN resolutions, and provide assistance - political, moral and financial - in order to help the parties achieve peace. Hamas, in my opinion, will lose much of its strength when genuine prospects for peace appear on the horizon. The writer is director-general of external relations at the office of the chairman of the Palestinian Authority.