As always when dealing with Olmert and Israel, they say one thing which is reasonable, and another which is not.
George Mitchell has traveled to Israel to try and consolidate the 10 day ceasefire and has been told that Israel are insistent that they will only re-open the crossings - including Karni - if Hamas release Gilad Shalit, the young Israeli soldier who was captured before Israel's last war with Lebanon. I actually find that a reasonable request and I personally would welcome the day when that young man is returned to his family, even if I regard punishing an entire people for the actions of a few as collective punishment. But I can, nevertheless, see where they are coming from and understand that what is being done to young Gilad Shalit is a disgrace.
However, the Israelis then attach another demand which is utterly unreasonable:
I find it worrying if the Obama administration find this request reasonable. No matter what one thinks of Hamas it is undeniable that they are actually the elected representatives of the Palestinian people. To make their removal a condition of ending the siege is to accept Israel's refusal to allow the Palestinians to make their own democratic choice.
Israel has been arguing that as the 2005 agreement was made with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his Ramallah-based authority would need to control the Gazan side of the crossings, rather than Hamas.
The reference to the agreement by Mr Mitchell – who will not be meeting Hamas on his visit – appears to suggest that the new US administration accepts that interpretation.
Mr Olmert is said to have suggested in his talks with Mr Mitchell that Hamas had been sufficiently weakened by Israel's military campaign that the eventual return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza "in one form or another" was now a possibility.
We might not like the democratic choice which the Palestinians made but, if we believe in democracy, then we have to accept that they - for whatever reasons - made it and we should respect it.
Because they made that decision we have all - the US, Israel and the EU - been punishing them through a cruel blockade. I wonder if we have actually made them more radical rather than less through our actions?
After all, they only voted for Hamas because Fatah was corrupt and their policies of moderation were having no positive effects on most people's lives.
Meanwhile in a new report on the West Bank, the Israeli pressure group Peace Now disclosed that 1,257 new structures were built in Israeli settlements in occupied territory during 2008 – a 57 per cent increase over 2007. The Annapolis summit on the peace process at the end of 2007 was based on the internationally-agreed road map, which calls for a freeze on all settlement activity.All around them their land is being stolen, is it any wonder that they made the choice they made when the moderation of Abbas failed to stop that?
I can understand Israel's desire to remove Hamas, but, in order to do so, Israel will need to prove that moderation yields benefits. So far, as the illegal settlement building continues at a pace, there is absolutely no evidence of that.
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