Support the Mecca agreement

The US must not give in to continued Israeli foot-dragging.

mashaal hug 88 (photo credit: AP)
mashaal hug 88
(photo credit: AP)
It gives me pleasure, but at the same time it is kind of sad, to see the Israelis and the Americans squirming. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has flip-flopped from stating that his government neither supported nor opposed the Mecca agreement to trying to bypass US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by going directly to her boss to insist on the boycott of the yet-to-be-established Palestinian national unity government. The Mecca agreement represents a clear shift in Hamas's alignment, from the Iranian-Syria axis to the Saudi side. In response, however, US diplomats complain that this agreement "complicates things." This is a shameful position. It is a shame for a superpower to say that the outcome of a democratic election - isn't that supposed to be Bush's legacy? - and a deal for Palestinian unity aimed at ending internal Palestinian bloodletting and saving lives "complicates things." It is shameful that the Americans are demanding of Palestinians what they have not demanded of the Lebanese, Saudis or even of the Iraqi regime operating under US occupation. Washington has not demanded that sovereign Arab countries recognize Israel. But it is demanding that a government that is not sovereign recognize the very state that is occupying its land - a state whose borders have yet to be determined. PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas and his Hamas interlocutors understood the international community's insistence that new governments honor the agreements of previous governments, and this has happened. So the issue of what to do with the upcoming national unity government should not even have come up in tripartite meeting. Rice, Olmert and Abbas had agreed weeks earlier to meet in order to kick-start direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. All the elements for these negotiations had been in place for some time. Ever since the death of Yasser Arafat, the Israelis have dragged their feet in agreeing on the resumption of permanent status talks. The Mecca agreements strongly support Abbas in his mission to deal with the Israelis. The Hamas-Fatah agreement clearly identifies the PLO as the party entrusted to continue negotiations. The fact that the Islamic leaders have agreed to a long-term hudna, provided that a Palestinian state is created within the 1967 armistice lines, shows that the vast majority of Palestinians, Arab countries, the US and the international community are all in agreement about the two-state solution. WHAT IS missing now is for the Israelis to agree to begin talks on how to accomplish this goal. Bush did declare it to be one that his administration was hoping to accomplish. The repeated visits by the US secretary of state have been based on Bush's declared public call for the creation of an independent state of Palestine alongside Israel. She is ostensibly empowered by the president to find a way to produce for him a good Middle East legacy that can somehow replace his negative adventures in Iraq. Despite this, there is doubt that Rice has the will or the power to help produce a breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. While America's main interest in the Middle East is Iraq, Washington seems convinced that there is a connection between Palestine and Iraq. America might use all its military power to try to produce positive results in Iraq, but it obviously needs to employ "soft power" to win the hearts and minds of Sunni Arabs. To accomplish this, Bush needs to show at least the appearance of movement on the Palestinian issue. For the Americans, the photo opportunity with Abbas is valuable. The question is whether Abbas is able to extract from the Americans, and Israelis, more than just smiles and handshakes in front of clicking cameras. IF THE AMERICANS want to win over Iraq's Sunni Arabs, they can't anger the leaders of the Sunnis worldwide, the Saudis. And if the Americans want to win over more Iraqi Sunnis, they have to be careful about how they finally deal with the accord produced and signed in the shadow of Islam's holiest mosque. No wonder Rice feels that the Mecca agreement "complicated things." If Rice is fully committed to producing a political breakthrough, she will be forced to do what she did when she dealt with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government even though it included Hizbullah ministers. Allowing the Israelis to get away with more foot-dragging is equivalent to a rejection of the Saudi-sponsored Mecca deal. No, Rice's mission is not easy, but rather than her continued squirming she should tell the Israelis to make a deal with the new Palestinian unity government.