Robert Novak

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- "We are ready," Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), told me. "I am the head of the Authority. I have already recognized Israel, and I am against terrorism." He thereby implied that the world should deal with him if it refuses to talk to Hamas.
That was a bold approach by a pragmatic statesman often accused of excessive caution. He was suggesting there is no need for Israel and its Western allies to deal with the PA's new Hamas government, which has refused to recognize Israel and forswear violence. Yet, during more than an hour's conversation at PA headquarters, Abbas seemed more desperate than bold. The Palestinian government faces bankruptcy after losing Israeli, U.S. and European Union funding, with Hamas adamant against yielding to conditions for turning on the money tap.

A key adviser to the Palestinian president, however, told me it is impossible for the rest of the world to deal with Abbas and bypass Hamas after it has scored a sweeping parliamentary election victory over Abbas's Fatah party. With the PA out of money and divided, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is free to pursue unilateral border revision, based on the ongoing security wall fencing off Palestinians that high-placed officials approvingly call an instrument of divorce. That produces a sense of foreboding among Israelis and Palestinians as their tragic struggle enters a new phase.

The elected president of the PA can't be blamed for feeling bitter. Abbas was welcomed by the West with relief as a prudent successor to the dangerously unreliable Yasser Arafat. Now, his pleas to resume payments to the PA go unanswered. He did get good news during our conversation with a call from Norway. The Norwegian government agreed to consider restoring its funding, and Abbas is off to Oslo next month.

If it does reconsider, Norway would get an earful from Israel. Foreign Ministry officials reiterated to me that the Israelis will not tolerate anybody doing business with an unreformed Hamas. They predict the PA sooner or later will meet conditions, but almost nobody agrees with that. That ends the Mideast peace process for the foreseeable future.

Separation of Israelis and Palestinians is exactly what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wanted before he was felled by a massive stroke, and his policy is continued by Olmert. The security wall is intended not only for protection from suicide bombers but to eliminate contact between Israelis and Palestinians. Life will be worse for the Palestinians, but they will be out of Israeli sight.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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