Condi Rice 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Today's three-way summit represents a living contradiction to its original purpose: to help separate "moderate" Fatah from "radical" Hamas. It was scheduled before the Mecca agreement on forming a unity government, which sets out terms that can only be described as an abject defeat for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
To cancel the summit, it must have seemed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, would have been more embarrassing than to hold it, but it is not clear that this was the right call. After all, cancelling the meeting would have conveyed more clearly what Rice and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presumably will say in person - that the Palestinians must stop terror, accept previous agreements and accept Israel's right to exist.
These, of course, are the three conditions that Israel and the international community have set since the election of Hamas over a year ago. The Mecca agreement, which only produced a meaningless nod toward one condition - a joint claim to "respect" previous agreements - would seem to have ended Fatah's attempts to isolate and topple the Hamas government, which it decided instead to join.
The temptation now for the international community, after Fatah's capitulation, is to simply follow suit. This is what Palestinian spokesmen, from both Fatah and Hamas, are urging in the form of demands to give the promised Hamas-led unity government a chance.
As Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said, "The Americans must give the new government a chance to prove that it will fulfill the demands of the Quartet and the requirements of the peace process."
This, actually, is not a bad idea, if not in the sense that Fatah and Hamas mean. To them, "give us a chance" means to lift the embargo on direct aid to the PA now. But it should naturally mean something else. Instead of trusting the PA to deliver, without any basis for doing so and every reason not to, the Quartet could say that it will give the Fatah-Hamas government a chance to prove itself. Following a set period, such as two or three months after the new government takes office, the Quartet should say it is willing to consider whether the conditions are being fulfilled, and to take aid decisions accordingly.
In the meantime, the massive amounts of aid flowing to the Palestinians - $1.2 billion in the year following Hamas's election alone, according to the UN - should be reduced, and limited to carefully supervised vital needs. This would signal the working assumption that Hamas means it when it refuses to accept the Quartet's conditions. Why continue to pump money into an economy that is collapsing fast because of internecine fighting and the refusal of either Hamas or Fatah to stop terrorism?
Indeed, it is hard to believe that two factions that a moment ago were killing each other in the streets will suddenly sit harmoniously together. And even if they do, the Quartet must wait and see if such intra-Palestinian harmony is based on renewed attacks against Israel. As Abbas told a rally in Ramallah on January 10, "We have a legitimate right to direct our guns against Israeli occupation. It is forbidden to use these guns against Palestinians."
The Mecca agreement was the latest stage in a drawn out game of chicken, in which Hamas tries to prove that it has a greater ability to impose suffering on Palestinians and Israelis than the Quartet has to adhere to its principles. The international community has no choice in this context other than to redouble its determination, and find new ways of convincing Hamas that it must comply.
Ending direct aid to the PA government, while flooding the Palestinians with indirect assistance, has evidently not produced sufficient pressure on Hamas. While the financial pressure could be increased by reducing indirect assistance, pressing Arab states to undermine Hamas's diplomatic position is at least as important.
Even Saudi Arabia should be pressed to clarify to the Palestinians that unity is not enough. The unity must be for the purpose of ending terrorism, abandoning the "right of return" to Israel, and building the state alongside Israel that Palestinians claim to want. The Palestinian refusal to abide by the Quartet's conditions does not invalidate those demands; it does mean that insufficient pressure has been brought to bear to bring those conditions about.