The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority is that well-known Red Crescent ambulance concealing and transporting within it the Hamas suicide bomber. When Israel tells the whole world and its uncle that it insists on Fatah hegemony in the PA latifundia, while rejecting Hamas electioneering, it's asking to be taken in by seasoned con men whose double cross is by now nothing if not transparent. Nevertheless, Israel persistently props the pretense of colliding PLO and Hamas purposes, when in fact they collude symbiotically. There are no conflicting agendas. Both ostensible adversaries play us for suckers. They're in cozy cahoots while we waste our breath trying to convince all and sundry that one contender (PLO) is more virtuous than the villainous other (Hamas). We thus bestow legitimacy and PR bounty on a grotesquely undeserving beneficiary. Inter alia we also sabotage our own vital interests because we blot out the fact that not only isn't Fatah inimical to Hamas, it functions as its protective shield. Official Israel seems bent on refraining at all cost no matter how bloody from exposing this truth so as not to frustrate select conspirators or tarnish their image, which we labored so relentlessly to polish. Effusing goodwill, in the spirit of boundless camaraderie, we give them lots of latitude and the benefit of our doubt, hoping against hope that nothing will blow up in our faces after all. Keeping up appearances has become the paramount Israeli policy feature and ripping off the mask of deceit quite out of the question. Israel's by now thoroughly bewildered citizenry is called upon to trust that the Fatah ambulance driver is potentially a compassionate caregiver not to be confused with the dastardly passenger he deliberately hides and succors. While Hamas indeed pulls no punches about its genocidal intent vis-a-vis Israel, the PLO, it serves to recall, has never in earnest abrogated those clauses of its charter that espouse the identical aspirations. THE MANNERISMS and rhetoric may vary, but not the essence. The PLO, after all, has to please enlightened international sponsors. Hamas plays to a fanatic gallery of Islamic terror-mongers, and they require different oratory. All of this, however, hasn't prevented the PA's PLO-controlled media from hyping Hamas as never before. By railing against Hamas participation in the projected PA elections, Israel only deepens the deception. Mahmoud a-Zahar and his band of Islamo-fascists might as well co-steer the PA governing coalition. They exercise power anyway and are capable of vetoing any dealings between the PLO and Israel emboldened in no small measure by firepower they freely imported from Egypt after Israel abandoned the Philadelphi corridor. Southern Israel will soon be no less held to Hamas ransom than northern Israel is to Hizbullah's. Why pretend that this isn't so? To salvage Ariel Sharon's and Ehud Olmert's prestige? Why not let what lies beneath become evident for all to see and realistically size up? When Israel draws spurious distinctions between Mahmoud Abbas and Mahmoud a-Zahar, it makes their lies sound true and helps pull the wool over Israeli eyes. There's no reason to abet subterfuge and not show Abbas up as making murderers like Zahar respectable. If the latter garners electoral support, there would at least be no obfuscating the fact which Israel has systematically been downplaying since Oslo's advent that the Jewish state is threatened by the torchbearers of Hitlerite Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini. Do we fear having to parley with them? Odds are they wouldn't rush to do business with us either. It's not like we have a choice. The worst we can do is be regarded internationally as interfering in the PA's political processes. The world's opinion molders are sure to cast all Palestinian players as underdogs straining piteously to emancipate themselves and their fledgling democracy no less from the still-oppressive Israeli yoke. Israel's meddlesome wrong-headedness would trigger a screeching Arab-led cacophony and we'd be pilloried for undermining progress and liberty. If ever foreign pressure and bad press were avoidable, this is the instance. We're not obliged to court superfluous diplomatic hardship and paint our beleaguered selves into yet another inextricable corner. It's not as if Israel stands the remotest chance of preventing Hamas from gaining a say in PA affairs. No matter what transpires, the PLO cannot move without Hamas consent. The only question is whether Hamas influence would be seen or remain subterranean, allowing the PA to shirk all peacekeeping responsibilities. Besides, even if Israel forced Hamas out of the race formally, what's to keep it from fielding a front ticket? Nothing. What's inevitably going to happen may as well at least be visible. The other alternative is to dupe ourselves and while so doing prompt Washington to squeeze territorial and other concessions to "strengthen" Abbas, whom Israel after all prefers to Zahar. Israel is more than likely to end up yielding strategic assets not in order to regulate relations between itself and the PA but between supposedly warring PA factions. Obscuring the PA's real face can only cost Israel. By keeping ugly reality under wraps, the Mideast's lone democracy facilitates its own demonization as an anti-democratic interventionist. Concomitantly, both the duplicitous ambulance driver and his homicidal stowaway are let off the hook because we ourselves make it a faux pas to blow the lethal combo's cover. Inscrutably we announce exclusive partiality for favored terrorists harboring less desirable terrorists in bogus ambulances we licensed and posing as paramedics in disguises we designed, approved and helped stitch.