Ever since President George Bush's unveiling of his vision for Arab-Israeli peace we have been told that Palestinian statehood would bring the separation desired by most Israelis, peaceful coexistence with our Palestinian neighbors, and the conclusive elimination of the demographic threat. A Palestinian state, in short, was claimed to be in Israel's supreme interest. It isn't, and never was! At best, Palestinian statehood can be seen as a perhaps inevitable development, a "least-worst" option under present circumstances. There was always the possibility, even before the Hamas victory, that such an entity, contrary to Bush's vision of a "viable, democratic Palestinian state, living in peace side by side with Israel" would in fact turn out to be just another autocratic, fundamentalist Arab state, promoting terror and nurturing irredentist dreams toward Israel and Jordan. Another common claim is that just as the Jewish question - particularly of Jewish refugees from and victimhood in the Holocaust - was resolved by the establishment of Israel, so a Palestinian state would address the problem of Palestinian refugees. Even if we ignore the probably unintentional equation between Holocaust victims and Palestinian refugees who were cynically, for political reasons, left for three generations by Arab governments and successive Palestinian leaderships to languish in ramshackle camps, it should be clear to anyone that a future Palestinian state won't be able to absorb more than about 10-15% of the total refugee population. This means that unless the plight of Palestinian refugees is treated like that of other refugees around the world - in this case by permanently integrating them in the Arab countries in which they live - the problem will continue to be exploited. Accordingly, Bush's letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the effect that the Palestinian "right of return" should be limited to an independent Palestinian state was a small but important step in the right direction. Further, it was probably a mistake on the part of Israel not to insist that the Quartet's road map make Palestinian statehood contingent upon cancelling any claim of a "right of return" to Israel. THE SWEEPING victory of Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections should give Israel an opportunity to reopen such questions. In his landmark June 24, 2002 statement, Bush said "If Palestinians embrace democracy, confront corruption and firmly reject terror they can count on American support for the creation of a provisional state of Palestine." It is obvious now that these conditions will not be met. Similarly, in the road map that was designed to implement Bush's speech, Palestinian statehood is contingent on the Palestinians destroying their terrorist infrastructure - of which Hamas itself is a integral part - handing over illegal arms, putting an end to anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incitement, etc. In fact, Hamas's very raison d' tre is the destruction of Israel, replacing it with an Islamic state reaching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river, and beyond. Far from dismantling itself, Hamas says it intends to create a Palestinian "army" composed of its own terrorists. The question now is how seriously the Quartet, and even the US, will take their own conditions for Palestinian statehood. As liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote: "In due course we will be told that what Hamas has been insisting on for years - the utter destruction of Israel - is not really a serious goal. Hamas should not be taken literally, and anyway will be forced to moderate both its platform and its policies by the reality of governing... as for its truculent anti-Semitism... it too will be dismissed as without consequence." Cohen concludes: "From here on [Hamas leaders] will lie about their ultimate aim and smilingly assure us that what they have always said they no longer mean... all over the world, people will believe them and urge the US and Israel to do the same." THERE IS an alternative to such willful self-delusion. It is clear that Hamas's continuing refusal to take upon itself the most fundamental obligations under the road map, let alone previous agreements such as Oslo, Paris, Wye and Sharm e-Sheikh, and do away with the "right of return" dictates a reevaluation of Palestinian statehood as an American and Israeli goal. Not even the continuing role of the Quartet, in light of Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to break ranks and invite Hamas to Moscow, should be taken for granted. Putin's stance, given the Russian - previously Soviet - desire to counterbalance American dominance in the region, comes as no surprise. Yet the immediate outcome of Russia's action will be to make the Quartet, of which it is a member, even more irrelevant than before. Israel, for its part, should not be discouraged by these developments. We still hold most of the cards. First of all, Hamas, in spite of its bombs and bombastics, does not represent a real military threat to Israel, and it is not implausible that this will have to be put to a test at some future point - sooner rather than later. Nor does a Hamas government stand much chance of enduring if it is diplomatically, politically and financially isolated by Israel and the rest of the free world. Admittedly, that is a big "if" - not only because of Moscow's negative step, but also in light of a possible change of heart by the UN and some of the Europeans, who, more than anyone else, should have learned a lesson from their own history. All this will require a major diplomatic effort on Israel's behalf, including making it clear that we hold the keys to the very idea of Palestinian statehood. The writer twice served as Israel's ambassador to the United States.