(photo credit: PA [file])
Hamas went into the Mecca talks on a Palestinian unity government seeking what it has wanted since it gained power: the fig leaf of Fatah's participation, without having to give into any of the three demands of the international Quartet: accepting previous agreements, renouncing terrorism and accepting Israel's right to exist. Hamas got what it wanted - "unity" without concessions. Now the ball is in the Quartet's - and Israel's - court.
If the agreement holds water - at least for a while due to Saudi pressure and fear of more internecine carnage - Hamas will be allowed to enjoy the best of all worlds. Hamas leaders only danced around the distant perimeter of the Quartet's benchmark requirements. In a letter, Hamas has promised only to "respect" previous agreements. Given that Fatah itself rampantly violated agreements with Israel that it was much more formally bound to, this statement from Hamas is essentially meaningless.
So far, the official stance of the Quartet and Israel is to wait and see whether the new unity government in fact abides by the three conditions. The new government has not been formed, nor have its guidelines been issued. It will, however, be headed by Hamas, so there is no reason to expect that it will make any further concessions that were not made in Saudi Arabia. This is especially true if, as expected, Saudi Arabia itself begins funding the new government directly, easing the financial pressure on it.
In this context, it should be clear that there is no reason for the Quartet or Israel to start funding the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Already, as the UN recently reported, aid to the Palestinians rose 10 percent since Hamas was elected a year ago, amounting to an astronomical $1.2 billion in 2006, not counting funds collected directly by Hamas. This Western assistance has been channeled to Palestinians without going through the government, so there is no reason to start funneling aid directly to an unreformed Hamas.
The more significant question is what happens to the West's pretense that it can prop up or negotiate with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as though Hamas does not exist. Already on February 19, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is slated to participate in a "summit" between Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
When Abbas's Fatah is entering a partnership with an unreformed Hamas, it is fair to ask, what is the point of such a meeting?
The latest idea being pursued by the US and Israel is to explore ideas with Abbas as if the parties have reached Stage 2 of the road map, the stage in which final status negotiations are supposed to begin. Such talks would be considered informal, since Stage 1, requiring an end to terror and the dismantling of terrorist groups, has not been implemented.
The rationale for going through such motions would be to create a "political horizon" and the illusion of diplomatic movement. The problem is that if the road map itself - not to mention the Oslo agreement, Israel's 2000 offer at Camp David, and numerous official Israeli statements in favor of Palestinian statehood - is not sufficient to convince Palestinians that a state is theirs for the asking, then talks are unlikely to change anything.
It is time that both the Quartet and Israel recognize that the reason Hamas does not want to make peace with Israel is not because the "political horizon" is insufficiently clear. Hamas simply rejects the horizon being offered - of two states living side by side in peace.
Under these circumstances, the Mecca meeting was a setback for peace, since it granted Hamas greater funding and recognition. What needs to happen is the opposite: for the Palestinians in general and Hamas in particular to understand that they have no alternative but to end terrorism and accept Israel's right to exist.
Talking to Abbas - Hamas's new fig leaf - will not increase the pressure on Hamas to end terrorism and recognize Israel. The way to do that is for the Quartet to press the Arab states to lead by example and publicly thaw relations with Israel and reject positions - such as the demand of a "right of return" to Israel - that are inconsistent with Israel's right to exist.
By sanitizing an unchastened Hamas, the Mecca agreement did the opposite, and was therefore a step away from peace.
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