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Whether Israel can succeed in bringing down Hamas is also questionable. In Gaza there are signs that the Israeli offensive has bolstered support for the beleaguered Hamas leadership. In Rafah and other Gaza cities, Hamas' resistance to the pressure is being seen as almost heroic. Even if the government falls, Hamas won't go away. Indeed, a collapse could boost the group's more militant factions, which would prefer to abandon the political process and return to armed struggle. "This will help Hamas because they have been saying they do not trust the Israelis," says Saied Zourob, an official in Gaza who belongs to Fatah, the party of Abbas, who called for Shalit's release. "Abbas has been saying that people should respect them and the peace process, but now the Israelis are pushing people toward Hamas and the resistance."
Lost amid the uproar last week was a small reason for optimism: an agreement between Hamas and Fatah to begin talking about forming a unity government that went further toward recognizing Israel's existence than Hamas had ever done before (without actually doing so). That raises the possibility that Israel might eventually be persuaded to restart negotiations with the Palestinians rather than pursue solutions on its own. But will the Israelis be in a mood to talk anytime soon? "Things are so confused and not conducive to any kind of peace process," says Walid Awad, an Abbas aide in the West Bank. "An element of good judgment and patience is missing." It may be a while before it comes back.