Perhaps you’ve heard: The ball is in Hamas’s court.

“It is fair to say that the ball is in Hamas’s court,” declared White House spokesman John Kirby about a week and a half ago. Two days later, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan repeated that the current cease-fire plan “is a proposal Israel accepted before and continues to accept today. The ball is in Hamas’s court.”

Nine days after Sullivan’s reassurance, the ball remains in Hamas’s court. In fact, the ball is looking rather a bit too comfortable in Hamas’s court. The ball is beginning to put down real roots in Hamas’s court. At this rate, Secretary of State Antony Blinken might never get his ball back.

What are we doing here, exactly? The answer is, we’ve reached the point in a diplomatic process similar to a computer glitch, where the numbers simply do not compute. The computer is frozen.

The norms on which diplomacy rely do not apply to Hamas. The group rejects them. In a normal negotiation, Hamas would have to either accept or reject the cease-fire agreement to which all other parties have agreed. A rejection would require a counteroffer—this is all pretty basic stuff. There is a limited amount of time that the ball is permitted to remain in your court.

But to that, Hamas responds: Says who?

The conflict is stuck in a loop so long as Hamas refuses to give back the ball. Hamas welcomes the deaths of Palestinians as well as Israelis, and Israel’s continuing operation in Rafah arguably doesn’t pose an existential threat to Hamas unless the Biden administration shifts its stance. Until then, Israel is forced to move too slowly to finish the job.

The U.S. is the one party to these cease-fire negotiations that can change the calculus overnight. That’s one of the benefits of being a superpower. But Biden isn’t even threatening to do so; why would Hamas make any sudden moves?

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar didn’t invent this time-freezing trick. He inherited it. When Yasser Arafat rejected the full offer of statehood presented by Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak, Arafat did not make a counteroffer. He simply walked away. And what did it cost him? Nothing. Less than a decade later, Ehud Olmert was back in front of Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, with another offer. Abbas simply ghosted him.

Of course, a half-century before Arafat’s rejection of statehood, the Arabs with whom the Jews were to divide the land did the same. Rather than negotiate over lines on a map, the decision was made to attempt to kill all the Jews and take all the land. Here we are, all these years later, and no Palestinian response has differed substantively from that basic formula.

The difference is that Arafat and Abbas learned their lines and played their parts in the theater of international diplomacy, at least to some extent. Abbas was genuinely opposed—on practical grounds—to Arafat’s launching of the second intifada. An insincere renunciation of violence is good enough to get American military figures to come to the West Bank and try to train the Palestinian security forces.

But Hamas beat Abbas’s Palestinian Authority on the battlefield. And Hamas beat Abbas’s Fatah party at the ballot box, too. What is the PA’s international legitimacy worth? Bupkis, as far as Sinwar is concerned. He’s holding American hostages and the Americans won’t even let Israel destroy Hamas once and for all.

After this, why would anyone abide by the norms of international diplomacy ever again? Why go through the motions? And why even respond definitively to the deal on the table?

After all, what are Joe Biden, Antony Blinken, and Jake Sullivan going to do about it?

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