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.