George Mitchell is apparently slated to be the special envoy to Israel and to...well, how does one tell who can represent the Palestinians in peace talks? Mitchell has been very clear that there is no purpose in negotiations with parties which don't want peace.  So this leaves us with Fatah whose certified terrorist history outranks the Tamil Tigers, the Basque ETA and several other fraternal Muslim killer organizations altogether. And whose commitment to an arrangement continues to be -- shall we say? -- a bit suspect.

Still, Fatah, which has run the Palestinian Authority over the last two years, is having hundreds of its militiamen trained by General Keith Dayton and put them into service, not altogether dysfunctionally, in Hebron and Jenin. It is clearly the more "moderate" of the Palestinian irridentist forces, and its words -- of course, not to its people, but to world diplomats and Israelis -- are civil.  Its not a sound basis for trust. But if you can't trust Mahmoud Abbas you can trust no Palestinian leader.  Except, to be sure, the World Bank economist-turned-prime minister Salaam Fayyaad, practical, reasonable and, alas, without following in the Palestinian streets.  What about Sari Nusseibeh?  He is the wet dream of Jewish peaceniks on the Upper West Side, a little slippery, but very entertaining at dinner.  He runs a niceuniversity in Abu Dis, astride east Jerusalem. Utterly irrelevant.

Oh, one other query about Fatah: Can it win an election in the West Bank? Perhaps. It is still, however, unbelievably corrupt and inefficient. It is also probably tarnished by its quotidian ties to Israel. And, after all, from the point of view of reasonable Palestinians of which there are some, Fatah was the political party that gave up a real state in the West Bank to assuage the demonic "from the river to the sea" delusions of Yassir Arafat.  On the other hand, there was little turmoil in the West Bank while the I.D.F. was bombing in Gaza.

And, then, there is Hamas. It entrapped the people of Gaza in a war it provoked. Relentless rocketry and missiles, utterly relentless, many thousands of them over almost eight years. What did Hamas or the subjects of its tyranny think Israel would do? Let the torment mount day in, day out? This war was perfectly proper because it struck at the Hamas military machine. That this machine was fused with civil life is not the responsibility of Israel. But let's face stark facts: many Gaza
"civilians" were also happy with this fusion. Victims, yes, but also fools.

The delirium of Palestinian politics is also a stark fact, and that is reality. And it is not residual reality. Many Palestinians and most in the Palestinian leadership believe they can whittle Israel down to size without they themselves having to whittle down their ambitions. This delirium also translates into the assumption that losing a military confrontation or, in fact, a war has no consequences. Hamas may launch another of their suicidal battles. This one won't last a day.

George Mitchell came into the region almost nine years ago. He's an even-handed man. I myself can't grasp how one can be even-handed between
political gangsters like Hamas and Israel. Unless, that is, one is willing to be even-handed between the Taliban and its antagonists, which I don't think Mitchell is prepared to be. And certainly not Barack Obama. And if I am wrong God have mercy on our collective soul.

So one of the questions that Mitchell must address first is whether Hamas is really fooling when it says it seeks the elimination of the Jewish state and, secondly, whether Fatah is really willing to live with a Jewish state.  I'm afraid that a truthful evaluation is likely to disappoint him quite a lot.  After all, this is not a time for ingenuous little tactics to calm the borders for a while.  It is time to settle the matter, perhaps over the long haul in order to build confidence, but with a clear goal in
sight.

I myself am doubtful whether such an outcome is even plausible. And Mr. Mitchell's experience in the Irish dispute is frankly no experience at all. The I.R.A. did not have designs on London. Let's not make too much of what was always a bitter but containable dispute.

Still, the fact that some Arabs trust Mitchell is a fine omen; and it doesn't mean that Israelis (or Jews) should distrust him  He is aman of good-will, perhaps a bit too credulous.  Skepticism is an apt trait to bring to this very combustible area.

What's more, Martin Kramer, a tough-minded Zionist strategist whom I have cited here many times, has written a posting on his "Sandbox" blog similarly welcoming to George Mitchell. Mitchell should understand, however, that Israel's security and peace is not a matter for barter in the Arab market.