While top Israeli emissaries were in Cairo seeking Gilad Schalit's freedom this week, their usual interlocutor, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, was not. He was in Khartoum and Riyadh on Arab League business. Suleiman then flew to Washington to see US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He is hoping to convince the Obama administration to abandon the conditions set in January 2006, after Hamas beat Fatah in Palestinian elections, requiring Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept past PLO commitments before the international community will deal with the Islamists. In the wake of all that's happened in the past three years, Suleiman has concluded that an ever-more entrenched Hamas needs to be accommodated if the Palestinians are to speak with one voice and function in the international arena. Several EU states already flirt with Hamas, discreetly. Russia and China do so openly. Suleiman has come up with a work-around to overcome international insistence - or what's left of it - on what Hamas must do to join a Palestinian government. What if Hamas vaguely promises to "respect" previous PLO commitments rather than declare its outright acceptance of them? Instead of dwelling on who recognizes whom, and how, isn't it better to have Hamas and Fatah acting responsibly together? FOR ISRAEL, however, who recognizes whom, and how, goes to the heart of the conflict - since the refusal to recognize the inalienable right of the Jewish people to self-determination anywhere between the Mediterranean and the Jordan signals Palestinian society's continuing to define our conflict in zero-sum terms. So if Suleiman's creative diplomacy ushers Hamas into a Palestinian government without it having to change its stripes, he will be undoing decades of painstaking steps Palestinians and Israelis have taken toward mutual recognition. That would put a question mark over the entire Oslo edifice, which has been preserved by successive Israeli governments. Put differently: If the international community turns its back on the most elementary prerequisites for Palestinian-Israeli cooperation - mutual recognition, non-belligerency and adherence to past agreements - it will be tearing asunder the existing basis for relations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. ISRAEL HAS long made a "nuisance" of itself trying to elicit recognition from Palestinian leaders - the only way to establish that the conflict has moved onto a non-zero sum basis. And that recognition seemed forthcoming. On December 7, 1988 Yasser Arafat declared in Stockholm: "The PNC accepted two states, a Palestinian state and a Jewish state, Israel. Is that clear enough?" And leading up to the September 1993 Oslo Accords, Fatah's central committee and the PLO's executive committee endorsed the deal in which the Palestinians recognized Israel. Yet the extent to which Israelis may have been deluding themselves was blatantly exposed this week, when Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan declared on Palestinian television: "I want to say for the thousandth time, in my own name and in the name of all of my fellow members of the Fatah movement: We do not demand that the Hamas movement recognize Israel. On the contrary, we demand of Hamas not to recognize Israel, because Fatah does not recognize Israel even today." Actually, Palestinian moderates have been making this point time and again. On October 3, 2006, Mahmoud Abbas told Al-Arabiya TV that he didn't expect Fatah, let alone Hamas, to recognize Israel. But a Palestinian government, qua government, had no choice but to "function opposite the Israelis on a daily basis," and it could hardly do so if its ministers didn't "recognize" their Israeli counterparts. Thus Palestinian "moderates" have had no change of heart about Israel: It's just that Israel has leverage over the day-to-day lives of millions of Palestinians, who are also dependent on international hand-outs and diplomatic support. Realpolitik forces their governing authority - but not them - to "recognize" Israel. In other words, if one has cancer, la sama'ha Allah, doesn't one "recognize" that fact and seek palliatives pending a cure? Israel's failure to insist that Fatah adhere to its commitments hasn't brought peace any closer, but blurred the distinction between moderates and extremists. We're not sure which is more disheartening - Suleiman endeavoring to cover up Hamas rejectionism, or Fatah reveling in its own.