Israel's ambassador to the United Nations this week linked the Hamas-led Palestinian government to Iran and to what he called a new "axis of terror."  His words are a sign of stepped up rhetoric and pressure on the Palestinian government, especially after last Monday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. 

Hamas has been under pressure since its surprise election victory in late January.  Israel and the United States said from the outset they would not deal with an organization they have designated as a terrorist group. Europe soon followed suit, and all three cut off any direct flow of funds to the Palestinian Authority once Hamas took over.

The hope was that this external pressure would make Hamas moderate its position, renounce violence, recognize Israel and support the peace process.  But Hamas has remained defiant, and even came out in defense of a young bomber linked with the militant group, Islamic Jihad, who blew himself up in central Tel Aviv.  Instead of condemning the bombing, Hamas leaders said it was an act of self defense caused by Israel's occupation.

That infuriated Israel, and its ambassador, Dan Gillerman, issued a warning to his colleagues at the United Nations.

"A dark cloud is looming over our region, and it is metastasizing as a result of the statements and actions by leaders of Iran, Syria and the newly-elected government of the Palestinian Authority," he said.

Ambassador Gillerman likened these statements and actions to, what he termed, "a declaration of war."  He warned that, if the world sits still and does nothing to root out this danger, it will threaten everyone.

"As this axis of evil and terror sows the seeds of the first world war of the 21st century," he added.

Senior Palestinian politician and peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat tells VOA, the Palestinians are not part of any axis.

"We [the Palestinians] are a people under occupation, under Israeli occupation," he said.  "We are a people, who are seeking to have peace with Israel, through negotiations, and we hope that the Israelis will stop scoring points and finger-pointing, because we are not part of any axis in the region, whether Iran or anybody else."

Some critics say that Hamas leaders have brought increasing hardships and isolation for Palestinians by sticking to their hard line, and visiting places like Iran, whose president has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction, and who continues to defy the West over his country's development of nuclear technology.

Hamas officials have been touring the region to seek funding to bail their government out of the financial crisis, caused by the aid cuts from Europe and America. 

But, there is also something else at play, says Palestinian political analyst Mehdi Abdel Hadi, of the Passia research center in Jerusalem.

"They [Hamas] see this opportunity of awakening of the sleeping horses in the region - i.e., the Islamic movement in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, and Palestine is no exception," he said.

Abdel Hadi sees in Ambassador Gillerman's words a reaction that goes back to the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

"I think it's part of the Islam-ophobia that goes back to the 11th of September. The idea has been to link the Iranians, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, as well as Hamas in Palestine," he explained.

Abdel Hadi says it is a mistake to automatically link Islamic groups to terrorism. He says their rise is part of democratic change in the region, and he says their militancy could be seen as a transitional phase.

Not everyone agrees.  Critics say Islamic groups are using the ballot box to come to power, and to enforce their own vision on the rest of the people.

Many Palestinians fear that, as Hamas maintains its hard line, it risks financial, and possibly political collapse, along with increasing chaos. 

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Hamas should recognize previous peace accords with Israel, and should agree to President Mahmoud Abbas's plan for future negotiations.  When asked if there is any indication of that happening, he says only, "I hope so."