Many Westeran government welcomed elections in Iraq last year. Yet, they uniformly snubbed the Palestinian government formed by Hamas after Hamas won a clear majority in elections there, preferring to deal with Mahmoud Abbas. It isn't showing much respect for democracy if you only deal with unelected leaders your government likes, allowing the ones that are actually elected to be captured in enemy raids without international comment. Hamas is compromising more than half way in permitting political rival Mahmoud Abbas to lead their government.
Israel would do well to unilaterally free the Palestinian cabinet members they have recently captured in military raids, following through on the preliminary ruling by their military courts today. That would permit further unilateral releases, first of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas, and subsequently of additional Palestinian officials for whose capture Shalit's capture was a reprisal, all while avoiding a formal prisoner exchange that might establish a precedent encouraging future raids.
As I understand it, it's longstanding US policy not to have full diplomatic relations with governments that sponsor terrorism (eg, Iran, until recently Libya). Whether they're a legitimate government and whether we're required to approve of them are two different and only marginally connected things.
It was clear at the time that Hamas was not entirely pleased to have won election! - they were happier sitting on the sidelines exercising the hardliners' veto that has foiled (from both sides) settlement of the conflict there so long. Actually keeping public approval may require different strategies, and in the long run I suspect it will all be to the good.
You're probably right about Israeli captures being counterproductive at this point.
I'd agree that the U.S. was behaving less inconsistently than some other governments - for example some western European governments that don't have the same antipathy to dealing with Iran as the U.S. does. The U.S. hadn't before been faced with an exclusive choice between "support democratic governments" and "oppose governments on our terrorism list", so some policy shift was inevitable, though it didn't have to be this one.
On the other hand, I can't reconcile withholding of tax revenues supposedly being collected on behalf of the Palestinian government with treating them as a legitimate government that one merely disapproves of.
Hmm, I could have sword Hamas tried to get Fatah to join a National Unity government with them immediately after the election and Fatah turned them down. In light of that, I wouldn't say it's Hamas who's compromising there. (Though I admit I haven't seen the particulars of the arrangement, since I've fallen behind on my news reading in recent weeks.)
Good point. I may have spoken too soon, though ... today's news makes it look like that compromise is falling through due to pressure from the Western governments. Would be interesting if Israel decided to release the tax revenues anyway....