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The Mecca Accord

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Update from AIJAC

February 13, 2007
Number 02/07 #06

Today's Update is devoted to the Mecca Accord for a Palestinian national unity government agreed to by Fatah and Hamas under Saudi auspices on Thursday.

It's heart is a comprehensive analysis by the always insightful Dr. Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Satloff not only looks at what the agreement says, and how the Palestinians arrived at this point, but also examines in detail what the agreement means for Israel, the Arab states, the US, and the future of the Palestinians. If you want to understand the background, detail and implications of the Mecca Accord, this is the one piece you need to read, so please CLICK HERE.

We next offer a view of the accord that, while agreeing with the broad sweep of the analysis presented above, sees some potential for a silver lining in two respects. Ron Ben Yishai, national security correspondent for Israel's largest circulation daily, Yediot Ahronot, says the accord may lead to an end to the Fatah-Hamas fighting, and offers some hope that Saudi Arabia can supplant Iranian influence with CLICK HERE.

Finally, veteran Israeli political scientist and public servant Shlomo Avineri says the Mecca Accord, achieved only through a combination of violence and outside intervention, demonstrates how far the Palestinians are from creating representative institutions or an orderly society. He says that the world needs to recognise that Palestinians are unlikely to succeed at nation-building without extensive outside help, and the only outside help they will accept is Arab. Therefore, he argues that the Saudi role in this accord raises the possibility of a Saudi trusteeship of a future Palestinian state. For this interesting argument, CLICK HERE.


The Mecca Accord : The Victory of Unity over Progress

By Robert Satloff

February 12, 2007

PolicyWatch #1195 
Analysis of Near East Policy from the scholars and associates of The Washington Institute                          

                                       
The Fatah-Hamas agreement mediated by the Saudis last week in Mecca revives a long tradition in Palestinian politics of prioritizing internal unity over progress toward strategic objectives. With Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas compromising on almost every critical issue to reach accord with the leadership of Hamas, the agreement blurs the distinction between moderate and extremist in the Palestinian camp and poses a direct challenge to advocates of the thesis that the contest between those two poles is the defining feature of the current Middle East landscape.
                                       
 The Road to Mecca
After Abbas nominated Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to form a PA cabinet last February, the international community's response was unusually swift and decisive. Despite having raised no formal objection to Hamas's participation in Palestinian legislative elections, the Quartet -- the United States, European Union, Russia and the UN -- suspended direct aid to the Hamas-led PA government and conditioned its renewal on the government's approval of three conditions: formal recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and terrorism, and commitment to implementation of existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements. For its part, Israel participated in the international financial boycott of the PA government by withholding the transfer of tax revenues collected by Israeli customs authorities and national insurance institutions. After several months, the Quartet adopted a plan to relieve financial pressure on certain segments of the Palestinian population by channeling funding through specialized international agencies and nongovernmental institutions. While this had the unintended effect of reducing the squeeze on the Hamas-led government, popular protests by key constituencies suggested that the policy of financial isolation was beginning to show signs of success. (Indeed, advocates of the policy of isolating Hamas financially should not have been surprised by the rise in Hamas-Fatah tensions; such tensions were the logical outcome of that policy).
                                       
In recent weeks, rising pressures have spilled over into open, armed conflict between Hamas and Fatah, with violence that more accurately resembles gang warfare (drive-by shooting, kidnappings, etc) than it does civil war. By last week, 130 Palestinians had been killed in internecine fighting, which has reportedly gripped Palestinian society with a Baghdad- and Beirut-like sense of fear and foreboding. The political complement to these armed clashes has been an on-again/off-again pattern of showdown and retreat between Abbas and Hamas. In recent weeks, Abbas has at times threatened the Samson-like option of bringing down both his own presidency and the Hamas government by calling new presidential and legislative elections, only to follow up such threats with repeated offers to go anywhere -- Cairo, Damascus, now Mecca -- to reach a new understanding with Hamas that would end internal fighting and break the wall of international isolation around the PA government. For its part, Hamas has remained remarkably resolute, offering no substantial concessions to achieve these two goals.
                                       
Abbas's decision to reach an accord with Hamas rather than face Hamas in an electoral showdown is especially puzzling given that it comes at a moment when both the United States and Israel are pursuing risky political moves to revive the dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process and strengthen Abbas's own position vis-a-vis Hamas. On the political front, this includes a U.S. commitment, evinced in word and deed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to invest political capital in defining a "political horizon" for Palestinians, an initiative which could only be made possible by a generous Israeli interpretation of the terms of the Roadmap to allow for negotiations over the shape of a permanent status agreement (the third phase of the Roadmap) before an effort had even been made to dismantle terrorist infrastructure (the first phase of the Roadmap). In terms of the real-life battle between Abbas and Hamas that seemed to be raging in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank, Washington and Jerusalem put their money where their mouths were with an $86 million commitment by the United States to bolster security forces controlled by Abbas and a $100 million transfer of blocked tax revenues from Israel to Abbas-controlled accounts.
                                       
Inside the Mecca Accord

Against this backdrop, and after the failure of previous attempts by Egypt and Syria to mediate a Fatah-Hamas agreement, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invited all the key leaders -- for Fatah, Abbas and a team that included leading Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan; for Hamas, Haniyeh and Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashal -- for negotiations in Mecca. After two days of talks, greased with the promise of massive Saudi financial assistance, the delegations reached an agreement, part of which is contained in a Fatah-Hamas accord and part in a new letter from Abbas to Haniyeh, in which the PA president asked the Hamas leader to form a new government. Piecing together these two documents, the key terms are as follows:                           
  • Agreement to forswear violence as a tool to settle Hamas-Fatah disagreements and "to stress the importance of national unity as the basis for . . . confronting the occupation."
  • Agreement on the composition of a "national unity government" to be headed by Haniyeh that would include eleven additional ministers nominated by Hamas; eight ministers nominated by Fatah; and one minister allotted to each of the other four political parties represented in the Palestinian Legislative Council. One of the Fatah appointees will be independent Ziyad Abu Amr to serve as foreign minister. By consensus, former finance minister Salaam Fayyad will return to that position. The interior minister, who will be an "independent" appointed by Hamas and approved by Fatah, has still not been named.
  •  Agreement to speed internal reforms within the Palestine Liberation Organization that will, for the first time, bring Hamas into the PLO and even award it a major role in the PLO's governance and leadership. The PLO, it is important to recall, still remains the official Palestinian representative in peace talks with Israel and other international diplomacy.      
 In addition to the distribution of ministries, the other main issue to occupy negotiators was the wording of a paragraph in Abbas's letter to Haniyeh that was supposed to address the Quartet's conditions. The full text of that paragraph is as follows:
                                       
"Third, I call upon you as prime minister of the next government to abide by the interests of the Palestinian people and to preserve their rights and maintain their accomplishments and develop them and work on achieving their national goals as ratified by the resolutions of the Palestinian National Council meetings and the Basic Law articles and the national conciliation document and Arab summit resolutions and, based on all this, I call upon you to respect the Arab and international legitimacy resolutions and agreements signed by the PLO."

 As both Hamas and Fatah officials have made clear in recent days, nothing in the accord can be viewed as addressing the first two of the Quartet's conditions (recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence) and only through a tortuous interpretation of the final clause can even a loose connection be made to the third condition (accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements). Neither "Israel," nor "peace process," nor "political horizon," nor even the word "peace" itself can be found. Not only is there a huge difference between "respecting" a resolution and agreeing to be bound by it, but because Abbas failed specifically to cite which Palestinian, Arab, and UN resolutions he asked Haniyeh to "respect," the Hamas leader could pick and choose from those he likes and those he dislikes. This critical paragraph is, in other words, worse than meaningless -- it is actually tantamount to a license for Hamas to interpret its political program as it sees fit, drawing on its own selective reading of the diplomatic history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Implications for Arabs, Israel, and U.S. Policy                         

The Fatah-Hamas unity agreement reached in Mecca last week has powerful implications for all regional players. The most serious challenge it poses is to U.S. diplomacy.
                                       
Arab Winners and Losers

It is apparent from a reading of the key Mecca documents that the unity accord was only made possible by Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas's decision to compromise, not by concessions from Hamas. There are four possible explanations for Abbas's actions: (1) he looked at the correlation of forces between Hamas and Fatah and reasoned that Hamas was so powerful that he and his allies could not win a political showdown, even with the active support of Israel and the United States, and therefore hoped to buy time for Fatah's rehabilitation; (2) he was so appalled at the prospect of intra-Palestinian violence and the prospect of civil war that he decided to pay a stiff price for internal peace; (3) he believed that the cover of a unity government may provide him with the protection to pursue U.S.-backed diplomacy with Israel that will, eventually, allow him to turn on his new Hamas partners; or (4) he is not nearly as committed to a permanent peace agreement with Israel, reached through peaceful means, as his reputation has led observers to believe. (A recent hate-filled speech by Abbas, in which he praises such Palestinian "martyrs" as former Islamic Jihad chief Fathi Shiqaqi, lends tragic credence to this latter view.) While each is possible, none -- not even the most optimistic scenario, option number three -- instills hope and confidence in Abbas's strategic vision and leadership skills.
                                       
Hamas clearly emerges strengthened by the Mecca accord. In exchange for some flexibility on naming ministerial portfolios and a vaguely worded statement about "respect[ing]" unspecified resolutions and agreements, Hamas received a huge political boost in the form of an embrace by both Abbas and the Saudi leadership. Indeed, just days after Fatah loyalists lobbed one of the worst epithets in the region's political lexicon at the Sunni extremists of Hamas during a major West Bank demonstration -- calling them "Shiites" -- Abbas allowed himself to be pictured along with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal and PA prime minister Ismail Haniyeh wearing nothing but pure cotton cloth performing Muslim ritual ablutions in Mecca. For Abbas, who was once accused of being a secret Bahai, itself a cardinal offense in the Sunni world, this was the twenty-first century equivalent of Henry IV's "Paris is worth a mass" volte-face.
                                       
Among Arab countries, the main winner from the Mecca deal is Saudi Arabia. Whether or not the kingdom survives the vicissitudes of Palestinian politics, merely engineering the Hamas-Fatah accord shows that Riyadh could succeed in significant regional diplomacy where two other Arab powers -- Cairo and Damascus -- could not. To a certain extent, the Saudis were default mediators: Hamas has consistently sought to embarrass Egypt, refusing to buckle under pressure to release abducted Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, whereas Abbas knew that striking a deal under Syrian auspices would add insult to American injury. Nevertheless, the Saudis will now bask in the glow of inter-Arab peacemaking. If Americans cry foul at Saudi efforts to legitimate Hamas -- and so far, the Quartet (the United States, European Union, Russia, and the UN) has actually welcomed, not criticized, Saudi efforts -- Riyadh will claim that its mediation prevented Iran from gaining deeper inroads among Palestinian radicals. It is unclear whether King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was actually animated by the strategic imperative to rally Sunni Arabs of all political stripes to confound Iranian schemes to extend Shiite influence throughout the Sunni Arab world or was merely moved to action by distasteful images of Palestinians killing Palestinians. What is clear, though, is that the Saudi "achievement" at Mecca came at the expense of legitimizing a radical organization that couldn't even specifically endorse the Saudi peace plan.
                                       
A second Arab winner in the Mecca deal is Syria. Palestinian political unity means that the chances have dimmed for diplomatic progress on the Palestinian track; Damascus will view this as a net positive, because it means there may be an opportunity to stoke interest in reviving the Syrian track. But if the past is prologue, the Syrians are not likely to take advantage of their own good fortune by making their offer to negotiate with Israel more attractive. Instead, Syrian president Bashar al-Asad is likely to undermine his own position by taking steps -- such as issuing bellicose statements, delivering dangerous weapons to Hizballah, or extending operational aid to some radical terrorist organization -- that makes it impossible for the Israeli government to consider this option.
                                       
Among Arab countries, the major losers from the Hamas-Fatah accord are Egypt and Jordan. In recent months, Cairo has been subject to a bout of national self-doubt, based on its inability to throw its traditional weight around in inter-Arab issues. Egypt's embarrassing failure to arrange a Hamas-Fatah accord will feed the growing sense around the region that the Egyptian emperor has no clothes. When Egypt looks for new opportunities to exert influence, as is likely, Washington needs to ensure that Egyptian ambitions are directed in a positive direction (such as leading Arab support to promote stability in Iraq) and that Egypt doesn't compete for the radical share of the Arab popularity market (such as investing in an "Arab nuclear option" to counter the Iranian nuclear program).
                                       
But whereas Egypt may suffer psychological fallout from the Saudi success, Jordan may be on the verge of a major strategic setback. King Abdullah II, after all, has argued that failure to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace within the coming period may mean that prospects for peace will never be realized -- and there can be no doubt that Hamas-Fatah accord certainly set back whatever hopes for diplomatic progress may have existed. One implication is that some in Israel are likely to give a second look to the policy of unilateral withdrawal, which Jordanians view with dread because it is likely to create a West Bank vacuum that Hamas will fill. Even if Israel does not go down that route, which has been discredited inside Israel by the rise of Hizballah and Hamas following withdrawals in Lebanon and Gaza, the strengthening of Hamas at the expense of Abbas can only have the effect of emboldening Jordan's own "Hamas-wing" of the Islamic Action Front inside the Hashemite kingdom.
                                       
Israel: Back to February 2006?

 In Israel, the political echelon seems to be unsure of its response to the Mecca accord. At his weekly cabinet meeting yesterday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his government "neither accepts nor rejects" the accord, which seemed not to keep pace with the fact that some key governments, such as France and Russia, had already reacted positively to the idea of including Hamas in regional diplomacy. For Israel, critical decisions need to be made, such as the continuation of financial and security support to Abbas. In essence, Israel finds itself today in exactly the same situation it was in exactly a year ago, when Abbas first appointed Haniyeh to serve as prime minister. At the time, Olmert, Tzipi Livni and other leaders of the Kadima party said the right approach for Israel was to see no distinction between Abbas and Haniyeh, a position that evolved considerably over time. Returning to that position today will require an abrupt shift in Israeli diplomacy, which can only be achieved in full coordination with the United States.
                                       
Dilemmas for Washington

 The Mecca accord presents the United States with more serious dilemmas than any other party. At the two ends of the spectrum, Washington's options are as follows:
  • to declare that Mecca has erased any distinction between moderate and radical in the Palestinian camp, suspend all efforts at direct assistance to Abbas, withdraw Gen. Keith Dayton's security assistance team, and curtail efforts to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian "political horizon."
  • to consider Mecca a purely internal, and quite insignificant, intra-Palestinian affair that has no bearing either on existing international conditions for a renewal of aid to the PA, which still stand, or on diplomatic efforts to pursue Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, which would go forward. In other words, the United States could behave as if the Mecca accord were irrelevant.       
The Bush administration is unlikely to want to pursue either route to its logical conclusion. It would prefer not to take a public position against Palestinian unity, even if such unity comes at the price of progress toward peace. Yet it surely realizes that, with Mecca, the sun has set on the pursuit of a "political horizon."
                                       
To complicate matters even further, this setback to one key initiative advanced by the administration comes at a time when another key U.S.-backed initiative -- UN Security Council Resolution 1701, the Lebanon ceasefire accord -- is under pressure as well. Here, the problem is repeated reports of substantial efforts by Syria to transfer weapons to Hizballah in direct contravention of the resolution. Last week, for example, German media reported the transfer of one hundred containers of Russian-made antitank weapons from Syria to Hizballah, under the watchful gaze of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers. Israeli defense minister Amir Peretz has publicly warned that, given the ineffectiveness of international guarantees preventing Hizballah's resupply, Israel may have to take its own action.
                                       
Collectively, these setbacks suggest that the Bush administration needs to revisit some of its key presumptions about the potential for stability and progress on various Arab-Israeli fronts and what is necessary to achieve them. Before taking further incremental steps on either the Palestinian or the Lebanese front, it is essential for Washington to reach strategic understandings with two players -- the Israelis and the Saudis -- on the direction of policy. With both Jerusalem and Riyadh, there are obvious tensions that need to be addressed. The Hamas issue is central: Strategically, both Israel and Saudi Arabia support the idea of Sunni cooperation to counter the rise of Iranian influence but tactically, they differ as to whether Hamas is part of the problem or part of the solution. In this context, did the Saudis purposefully "disrespect" the United States in mediating the Mecca Accord or could they possibly have believed that Washington was neutral or even supportive of an agreement that may have failed on the scorecard of the Quartet's conditions but that may ostensibly have succeeded in separating Hamas from its Iranian backers?
                                       
In this context, Washington might explore whether the potential exists for Israel and Saudi Arabia to engage more publicly in their own diplomacy. Given the limits on what can be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians after Mecca, expanding the orbit of regional diplomacy may make sense, especially if the Saudis are interested in arguing that Mecca not only ends Palestinian infighting but actually contributes to regional security. Since both Israelis and Saudis say they are keen to prevent the spread of Iranian influence in the Levant, the two sides would seem to have much to talk about, not least of which is a practical implementation plan for the eventual all-Arab recognition of Israel, the cornerstone of the Saudi peace initiative. This would, in essence, be the negotiation of an Arab Roadmap that would complement the existing Quartet Roadmap and would provide Israel with a countervailing set of incentives to those that the pursuit of a "political horizon" provides for Palestinians. There are many potential formats for this sort of engagement -- and there is a precedent: Saudi participation at the mother of all peace conferences in Madrid in 1991.
                                       
Dealing with regional diplomacy is no substitute for addressing the Mecca accord itself. Here, there is no avoiding the fact that while the United States welcomes Sunni Arab cooperation to counter rising Iranian influence, it cannot countenance the legitimization of an unreformed extremist organization like Hamas. It might have been a close call if Hamas had grudgingly uttered a formula close to the Quartet's conditions, but Hamas won the brass ring without having to compromise. In this regard, and in the absence of some other attractive regional option to occupy diplomacy, U.S. policy should reconsider the original intent of President Bush's landmark 2002 Rose Garden address, delivered with then-National Security Advisor Rice at his side: "I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty. If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts. . . . And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions, and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East."
                                       
Dr. Robert Satloff is executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.


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Mecca deal good for Israel?

Saudi mediation weakens Iranian influence on Palestinians; deal may bring calm

Ron Ben Yishai

Ynet.com, 02.12.07

If Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh manage to implement the Mecca agreement in the Palestinian territories, Israel may benefit as well, particularly in the security sphere. If the implementation fails, the very existence of the Mecca deal is bad for Israel on all fronts: Both diplomatically and security-wise.

This is the bottom line. But when we examine what was achieved through the Saudi king's mediation effort, we must recall that the Mecca deal is first and foremost an intra-Palestinian matter. It reflects the new balance of power, both politically and militarily, between Hamas and Fatah. This balance of power was created in the stormy year since Hamas came to power. It also includes an attempt to institutionalize and reinforce the patterns of government partnership between the radical Islamic branch and the main secular branch.

The agreement, however, does not include an unequivocal decision on the question of recognizing Israel and the way to reach peaceful coexistence with it.

The complex wording cannot hide the fact that Hamas continues to cling to its traditional positions, as does Fatah. The agreement between the two factions is pragmatic and meant to enable them to end the mutual bloodshed and receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the Saudis and Europeans. Therefore, from a diplomatic point of view, the deal is bad for Israel. It lifts the international pressure on Hamas to moderate its positions and enables it to establish itself in power without changing its ideological stance.

Moreover, the agreement will enhance the pressure on the Israeli government to enter into diplomatic negotiations on a final-status agreement with Abbas and make concessions before it's even clear whether Abbas, who serves as a moderate front for Hamas, can deliver the goods. This could lead to a situation where terrorism continues while Israel faces international pressure to implement what was agreed on with Abbas.

On the other hand, the Mecca deal features one important diplomatic ray of light: The mere fact that Saudi Arabia was the one that mediated and brought about the agreement boosts the influence of the sane elements in the Arab world on the Palestinian arena and weakens the influence of Iran and its emissaries.

From an Israeli security-related point of view, the agreement has several clear advantages: The Shin Bet director already said recently that the gravest danger faced by Israel in the Palestinian arena stems from the crumbling of society and violent anarchy in the Territories. The armed chaos allows Iran, Hizbullah and al-Qaeda to infiltrate the Territories and boos their influence. The absence of a central government with the ability to enforce its will, and the armed clans along with small yet murderous organizations such as Islamic Jihad dictate the Palestinian agenda. Their objective is to worsen the conflict with Israel in order to drag both Fatah and Hamas into it and enhance the motivation for terror attacks among the population.

Calm good for everyone

Under the cover of chaos, the smuggling tunnels on the Philadelphi route are operating with no interruptions and the lack of monitoring at the Rafah crossing allows arms, technological know-how and terrorists to constantly pour into the Strip. If through some miracle, Abbas, Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal are able to implement the Mecca agreement and stabilize a functioning central government, there's a chance to change this state of affairs.

Both Hamas and Fatah need the lull in the fighting with Israel in order to receive assistance and redeploy. Therefore, they may act together to restrain the rebellious elements. Hence, if the Mecca deal is implemented, we can expect a period of relative calm, which Israel needs no less than the Palestinians.

We must admit that the IDF and new chief of staff need a lull at this time in order to repair the flaws discovered during the second Lebanon War, in order to rebuild the ground forces and train then, and in a bid to renew the faith in the army's top brass. The Israeli defense establishment also needs the lull in order to digest and implement the Winograd Commission conclusions on the personal level (also regarding the prime minister, defense minister, and several general staff officers) as well as on the system level.

No less important, a timeout, if used properly, will enable the defense system to rapidly advance urgent security projects that would allow the State of Israel to better address the threats it faces at all theaters. We're talking about three projects: Fortifying western Negev communities, developing systems that intercept rockets and short and medium range missiles, and the completion of the security fence.

Hamas will indeed make use of the period of calm, should it materialize, in order to continue building its new military infrastructure in the Gaza Strip based on the second Lebanon War's lessons. Yet in any case, Hamas is already using the anarchy to vigorously work on constructing the infrastructure for tunnels and the smuggling of know-how and arms, and therefore a calm in the Strip as a result of the Mecca deal won't change the situation much on that front. It may only serve to provide Israel with a clearer address for diplomatic and military pressures.

The improvement of the economic situation in Palestinian Authority areas as a result of the foreign aid to be provided may also minimize the motivation for terrorism and boost Abbas' status. All of this depends, as noted, on the extent to which the Hamas and Fatah leaderships are able to overcome the personal and extended clan animosity and contain the desire for revenge that emerged in recent months. All those may turn the Mecca agreement into a dead letter within a short period of time.

 In addition, the respective Palestinian leaderships need to: 
  • Unite Palestinian security apparatuses and bring them under the effective command of the new interior minister. To that end, the "operational force" set up by Hamas will have to be brought into the Palestinian Authority's existing apparatuses. This is not an easy task, and in fact an almost impossible one.
  • Enforce a ceasefire on Islamic Jihad and other rebellious groups.
  • Bring the negotiations on the release of Gilad Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners to a successful conclusion
  • Agree on a mechanism that would effectively control the Rafah Crossing and crossings into Israeli territory.
If the Hamas leadership and Abbas are able to implement these moves, there's a chance the Mecca agreement will open a new intermediate chapter that is better not only for the Palestinians, but also for Israel. What will happen after this timeout? We shall see.

Yet experience shows that the Palestinians are experts at missing opportunities, even when we're talking about improving their own condition in every way. Therefore, it would be appropriate to keep expectations low in Israel as well and prepare for a situation where in a few months Israel will have no choice and the IDF will have to launch a wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip.


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A Saudi protectorate for Palestine?

Shlomo Avineri

THE JERUSALEM POST, Feb. 12, 2007

It is still too early to judge whether the Mecca Agreement between Fatah and Hamas will stop members of the various Palestinian militias in Gaza killing each other; it is equally questionable whether the convoluted language of the agreement lives up even to the minimal standards the international community has put forth as a condition for renewing aid to the Palestinian Authority.

What is, however, beyond doubt is that the various Palestinian factions, each commanding numerous armed militias and security services, have totally failed to work out a political system based on ballots, not bullets.

The January 2006 Palestinian elections only proved that neither the minority, nor the majority, knew how to function within the rules of representative government. Only an outside player - the Saudis - with their standing and lucre were able to achieve what negotiations, not shootings, lynchings and killings, are supposed to achieve in any orderly society.

This raises anew the question of how far Palestinian society is able to carry out nation-building under the difficult conditions in which it finds itself. Some of these difficulties are undoubtedly a consequence of Israeli occupation. But many have to do with the structure of Palestinian society itself, lacking the basic ingredients of tolerance, legitimized pluralism and the understanding that differences are not to be decided by force and coercion.

That the major achievement of the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat was, rather than social reconstruction, the establishment of a dozen security services testifies to this structural failure.

THE TIME has perhaps come to consider that the Palestinians may need a guiding hand, able to lead them in what they have until now totally failed: nation-building. Some Jordanian statesmen recently expressed in private the idea that perhaps the Hashemites could now somehow come back and provide such guidance. Egypt has already played an important, though only partially successful role, in negotiating a cease-fire of sorts between Israel and some Palestinian militias in Gaza. The Saudis have now proven that maybe they are the addressee.

The Mecca Agreement is at the moment a mere piece of paper; it will be tested in its implementation. It may not be unkind to suggest that once President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh return to their respective headquarters, the bickering - and perhaps shooting - will resume. In any case, it would be helpful if a robust Saudi presence, perhaps helped by Egypt, could be established in Gaza.

The Palestinians need help to help themselves. At the moment the idea that the dozens of Palestinian security services, militias and clan gangs - all thuggish and armed to the teeth - can become a basis for a more or less functioning body politic is totally unrealistic. The Palestinians need a transition period in which a higher authority will guide them toward nation-building and state-formation.

This cannot be done by the EU or the UN. Only a legitimate Arab regime, one with enough power and money, can do it - and the Saudis may be the best candidate for the role, especially as it may also fit into their own overall view of trying to stabilize the region.

IN OTHER words, and without beating around the bush: the Palestinians have to come out from under Israeli occupation, but they are unable to create the infrastructure that will give their political entity the necessary stability. A Saudi protectorate could be the way out of this conundrum, and the notion should be seriously addressed by all concerned.

If the UN is now considering independence for Kosovo under a UN guiding hand, why not something similar, under Saudi protection, for the Palestinians?

The author is a former director-general of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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