Analysis: The summit: Overcome by events

The idea of Monday's meeting was to show the Palestinians all they could gain by distancing themselves from extremists and hugging moderates.

Rice Abbas 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Rice Abbas 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The idea for Monday's trilateral meeting was hatched during US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's last visit to Israel in mid-January, and was a direct outgrowth of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's idea from December to provide the Palestinians with a "political horizon." The idea was simple: To make a clear distinction between Fatah and Hamas, between the moderates and the extremists, between the Mahmoud Abbases and the Khaled Mashaals. The idea was to show the Palestinians all they could gain by distancing themselves from the extremists, and hugging the moderates. But that was then, a full five weeks ago. In the interim the lines between the extremists and the moderates were blurred in Mecca. At Mecca, Abbas showed a willingness to form a partnership with Hamas. Abbas went to Mecca trying to Fatahize Hamas, but ended up becoming more Hamasized himself. So, in one fell swoop, the trilateral meeting's raison d'etre melted away. Immediately after Mecca there was serious discussion in Jerusalem about whether to call the whole thing off altogether. There were those who argued that if Abbas chose a condominium with Hamas, he should pay the consequences, and until the new government adopted the three principles, Israel should cease dealing with him. The prime minister, however, has up to this point opted for a different approach - one that brings back memories of last February, the period between when Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in January, and the new government was formed in March. At that time, as now, the world decided to take a wait and see approach, the logic being that it was preferable not to act in a rash or drastic manner, in the hope that common sense would prevail and the Palestinians would not establish a Hamas government that few in the world would deal with. This "Western" common sense, however, did not prevail, and the Palestinians opted for a government that the world decided to boycott. A year later we have returned full circle to exactly the same spot. Again the Palestinians did something that both Israel and the US and Europeans did not want them to do - formed a unity government that, as of now, does not cross the bar that the international community established: recognize Israel, forswear terrorism and accept previous agreements. Now, as was the case last year during the interim period, there are attempts to "talk sense" to Abbas so that a Palestinian government is not formed that the world will not recognize. Few, however, are holding out much hope, which means that preparations need to be made for the day after. There are fundamentally three choices facing Israel if a Palestinian government is set up that does not accept the three conditions. The first is to treat the new government as it did the last, meaning boycott it and deal only with Abbas, who will remain the chairman with the same powers now that he had then. The second choice is to pick and choose which ministers inside the new government to talk to, boycotting the Hamas-affiliated ministers, but talking with the Fatah ones, an idea that has gained some traction in Washington. And the third choice is to say that this is a government that Israel simply cannot deal with, and that since Abbas not only gave it his seal of approval but also helped midwife it, then he is no longer a political partner. The option Israel will choose depends to a large extent on the answers that Abbas gives Monday to the following questions: What is he trying to do to get the new government to accept the three conditions, what power does he have to implement anything in the PA, and how does he plan to separate - or distinguish himself - from Hamas?