As the row between the Obama Administration and the Israeli government over the settlements continues, Hamas is gradually turning the Gaza Strip into a Taliban-style Islamic entity that poses a threat not only to Israel, but also to the Americans, Europeans and moderate Arabs and Muslims.

Both Hamas and its rivals in the Palestinian Authority appear to be satisfied with the fact that the Obama Administration has turned the issue of the settlements into the major problem, shifting attention from the incompetence and corruption in the West Bank and the emergence of the new Islamic state in the Gaza Strip.

The high-profile controversy over Israel's policy of building new homes for Jewish settlements has in fact facilitated Hamas's mission.

Thanks to the Obama Administration's new strategy regarding the Middle East, the entire world now seems to be obsessed with the issue of the settlements as if they were just now being established.

The foreign media is no longer interested in what's happening in the Gaza Strip. Nor are Western governments and international organizations dealing with the Israeli-Arab conflict.

As far as most decision-makers in the US and Europe are concerned, the "natural growth" of the settlements is much more dangerous that the rise of another radical Islamic state in the Middle East.

Hamas feels confident to do whatever it wishes in the Gaza Strip because the Obama Administration and its allies in France, Germany and Britain are too busy arguing with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu whether settlers should be permitted to build new homes or not.

So what if young women in the Gaza Strip are being harassed and arrested by Hamas's "morality police" for laughing in public or leaving their homes without hijabs?

So what if young Palestinian women are banned from swimming unless they are covered from top to bottom? And so what if women are being banned from entering coffee shops and restaurants and other public places unless they are escorted by male relatives?

So what if young men are banned from swimming in the sea topless? And so what if Hamas is now operating a secret police whose job is to separate males from females in public places?

A Palestinian journalist in the Gaza Strip remarked: "The Americans and Europeans are fighting against Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan while Hamas is building a new fundamentalist entity here. The settlements may be an obstacle to peace, but Hamastan will soon become a major threat to stability in the region."

The Palestinian Authority also appears to be happy about the West's obsessions with the settlements.

The Palestinian leadership's handling of the issue of the settlements is extremely hypocritical: Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salaam Fayad, insist on boycotting peace talks with Israel in protest against the ongoing construction in the settlements. But the two did not stay away from the talks when former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were also building in the settlements.

The construction in the settlements has increased since the signing of the Oslo Accords more than 15 years ago, but that did not stop the Palestinian Authority from pursuing the peace talks with Israel.

Yasser Arafat negotiated with former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon even while the bulldozers were continuing to build new homes in the settlements.

So what is behind the Palestinian Authority's decision to suspend peace talks with Israel? Have Abbas and Fayad suddenly discovered that the settlements are expanding? The two are waiting for the Obama Administration to deliver.

Tensions between Obama and Netanyahu have left many Palestinian Authority leaders very happy and hopeful. Their optimism is based on the hope that Obama will force Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders, including the eastern part of Jerusalem, and expel all the Jewish settlers from the West Bank.

Some Palestinian officials in Ramallah seriously believe that Israel will eventually succumb to Obama's demands. As such, they explain, why return to the negotiating table with Israel when the Obama Administration has actually endorsed the Palestinian position and is negotiating with the Netanyahu government on behalf of the Palestinian Authority?

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