'Gaza! You Have a Problem!'

Following last night's emergency meeting in Jerusalem, the Israeli government's response to the stunning and unexpected Hamas election victory is becoming clearer.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a statement last night making it quite clear he had no intention of talking to a new Palestinian government that contained members of Hamas.

Like everyone else here, it seemed that the Israeli leadership was stunned into silence by Thursday's dramatic election results, which delivered a huge victory to Hamas. Late in the evening, the first official statement was released, and this morning Israel's small army of official spin doctors were busy spreading the word.

Bustling into the ABC News Jerusalem Bureau, the acting prime minister's spokesman, Ranaan Ghisin, was quick to deliver his usual torrent of well-rehearsed sound bites.

Borrowing from the Apollo 13 mission, he said: "Ramallah! Gaza! You have a problem."

Israel faces its own election at the end of March, and each party's response to the Hamas victory will be tailored for the campaign trail.

Olmert, as acting prime minister and acting leader of the new centrist Kadima Party, will need to reassure his potential voters that he is tough enough to stand up to the challenges of a new Hamas leadership in the Palestinian territories.

His challenger from the Israeli right wing, Benjamin Netanyahu, was quick to clamber onto the election platform. "What we are seeing today is the birth of Hamastan, linked to Iran and in the image of the Taliban," he warned Israeli voters at a hastily arranged meeting of his Likud Party.

Playing on the fears of the Israeli electorate has been a well-worn strategy in recent years. Ariel Sharon, recently departed from the political stage, was a master at promising to deliver security to Israelis while they cowered under the attacks of Palestinian suicide bombers.

The emergence of Hamas as the dominant political force across the occupied territories will likely see Israeli politicians rushing to promise a tough stance and a no-compromise platform.

And so it appears from Olmert's first response. No to talks, no to negotiations, with an organization that refuses even to recognize the state of Israel.

As with almost everything here though, the situation is not that simple. Despite the establishment and the operation of the Palestinian Authority, the continuing Israeli occupation means that Israel is still very involved in the day-to-day lives of thousands of Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority negotiates with Israel on numerous daily issues such as water usage, shared electricity, customs regulations, travel permits for the sick seeking Israeli medical treatment, and the operation of checkpoints across the territories.

If Hamas runs the Palestinian Authority, it is difficult to see how Israel will be able to avoid these daily contacts with Hamas officials.

Politicians and their spin doctors on both sides will continue to create new slogans of defiance and intransigence for their own electorates. But down at street level, it is highly likely the two sides will be talking on a daily basis. Perhaps those face-to-face meetings have already started.

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