Next Steps to Follow the Palestinian Agreement in Mecca

Ever since the warring Palestinian factions jointly developed the outline of a Palestinian unity government last week in Mecca under the auspices of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdallah, various parties have emerged to offer their thoughts on whether the agreement goes far enough to be acceptable to the international community, and whether the Israelis should even continue dealing with Abu Mazen’s government.

The New York Times published an editorial today suggesting that this agreement represents a start that could be made into much more if the United States does more to push this opening toward a place that could at some point bring about real progress.  Referencing the upcoming trilateral summit, the editorial says, “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set to meet with Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and Mr. Abbas a week from tomorrow. Her past trips to the region have been empty exercises. By recognizing last week’s minimal Palestinian pact as a potential starting point, the White House could give her a chance to improve on that dismal record.”

Amidst the continuing dire situation plaguing the Palestinian territories and the continued craving for peace that innocent civilians on both sides of the border share, all potential openings like this one should be seized.
To read the rest of the New York Times editorial, please click here.


February 11, 2007
Editorial
A Very Partial Palestinian Peace
Peace with Israel was not the subject of the summit meeting Palestinian leaders held in Mecca last week. The Saudi government summoned the leaders of Hamas and Fatah to negotiate a halt in their incipient civil war, which was alarming and embarrassing the Arab world.
Still, the vaguely worded agreement, and the creation of a coalition cabinet, might make peace with Israel more imaginable — if there is a lot more compromise from Hamas and a lot more diplomatic help from Washington.
Hamas and Fatah have reached understandings before, only to have them unravel. This deal could prove more durable because of the heavy investment of Saudi diplomatic capital and the dire financial condition of the Palestinian Authority.
Before Europe and the United States will release aid to the authority, Hamas must recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. What Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and a Fatah leader, managed to extract from Hamas last week was far less — an agreement merely to respect international agreements and resolutions previously agreed to when Fatah was in charge.
That grudging and highly equivocal concession is further than Hamas had gone. It will be parsed in various ways by various interested parties for weeks to come. But what really matters is how Hamas acts. The most important action would be a credible effort by the joint Hamas and Fatah government to detect and thwart terrorist attacks against Israel. Saudi Arabia is reportedly ready to offer the Palestinian government a large aid package. That might help show Hamas the advantages of improved behavior. But Riyadh should make clear that continued aid will require clear proof that the new government is reining in terrorism.
Whether Hamas is prepared to take that crucial step is doubtful. Israel and the United States should encourage it by making clear that an all-out effort against terrorism would radically improve the negotiating climate — and open the aid spigots.
Given the current political paralysis in Israel, Washington will have to take the lead in sending this message. That will take more courage than the Bush administration has yet managed to muster. Mr. Bush has wasted more than six years without coming up with a serious policy for reducing violence between Israel and the Palestinians and promoting diplomacy.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set to meet with Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and Mr. Abbas a week from tomorrow. Her past trips to the region have been empty exercises. By recognizing last week’s minimal Palestinian pact as a potential starting point, the White House could give her a chance to improve on that dismal record.

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