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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hamas was the winner in Mecca

The consensus is quite clear that Hamas was the winner at last week's 'summit' in Mecca. Let's look at a few reasons why. This is from Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post:
Why the agreement is perceived as a victory for Hamas:

1. Hamas will still head the new unity government....

2. The disputed Interior Ministry, which is formally in charge of the Palestinian security forces, will also remain in the hands of Hamas. True, incumbent Interior Minister Said Siam will be removed from his job, but his successor - according to the deal - will be chosen by Hamas. In previous rounds of Fatah-Hamas negotiations, Hamas seemed willing to also cede control over this ministry.

3. Fatah will not have control over two key cabinet portfolios - Foreign Affairs and Finance. These posts will be given to "independent" legislators Ziad Abu Amr and Salaam Fayad, who will work under Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

4. Hamas's 4,000-strong paramilitary Executive Force will be incorporated into the Palestinian security forces, which means that their salaries will be paid by the US and the European Union. This is the same force that was recently outlawed by Abbas and condemned by his aides as a "bunch of murderers and gangsters."


5. Abbas has been forced to accept Hamas's stance that the new unity government would be required to "respect," rather than "abide" by previous agreements between the PLO and Israel. This has been Hamas's position all along and is the main reason for the failure of the Damascus summit between Abbas and exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal several weeks ago.


6. To avoid alienating Hamas, the word "Israel" was not mentioned in the Mecca Accord or in public statements by Hamas, Fatah, and Saudi government officials. As Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan explained over the weekend, "Hamas's position remains firm and unchanged: we will never recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist entity."

7. The agreement makes no reference to the future of the Middle East peace process or the need to halt attacks on Israel. Surprisingly, neither Abbas nor Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz referred to these issues in their public speeches. [I don't understand why he's surprised by that. I have argued all along that Fatah has the same goals as Hamas, just different methods of reaching them. CiJ]

While the accord explicitly emphasizes the need to end internecine fighting among the Palestinians, there is no call on Hamas and other radical groups to renounce violence, including suicide bombings and rocket attacks, as demanded by the Quartet.


9. The agreement has effectively buried any chance of dismantling the Hamas-led government, at least in the next three years.

Abbas's threat to call early parliamentary and presidential elections has gone down the drain.

10. By signing the unity government deal, Hamas has also strengthened its standing among the Palestinians. From now on, no one can accuse Hamas of "monopolizing" power and refusing to share powers with other political factions. Hamas had been held responsible for instigating civil war in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Now, many Palestinians are praising the group for making painful "sacrifices" for the sake of national unity.

11. Hamas's status among the Palestinians is likely to be further strengthened once the Quartet and Israel officially reject the Mecca deal. Such a rejection will seriously embarrass Abbas and his Saudi hosts in the eyes of the Palestinian and Arab masses.

Hamas will then be able to argue that the world does not want to see unity and harmony among the Palestinians, because the true goal of the international community is to overthrow the democratically elected government and extract political concessions from the Palestinians.

12. According to Hamas officials, the new Hamas-led coalition will receive up to a billion dollars from Saudi Arabia. The officials hope that other oil-rich Arab and Islamic countries, as well as some European governments, will follow suit and pour millions of dollars on the new government, effectively ending the international sanctions.

13. Hamas returned from Mecca with a pledge from Abbas that the Fatah-dominated PLO would open its doors for the Islamic movement to join the organization. This will turn Hamas into the second largest faction in the PLO after Fatah, and Mashaal will become Abbas's deputy once a deal is finalized.

14. The agreement does not call for any changes in the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council.

This means that the unity government will constantly be under the threat of losing in a no-confidence vote in parliament if Hamas does not approve its policies.
At YNet, Sever Plocker fears that eventually the 'quartet' - including the United States - will end its boycott of the Hamas-led government:
From Israel's point of view, the Mecca Agreement is a worrisome development. The battle to hinder Hamas from gaining the world's acceptance may end in defeat. Because let's not delude ourselves: The US would not be able to reject an intra-Palestinian compromise agreement led by the Saudi king.

American interests are stronger: Saudi Arabia is the third-largest supplier of oil to the US (14 percent.) Saudi Arabia and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, under its auspices, have accumulated foreign currency reserves of USD 1,000 billion, primarily invested in dollar bonds.

According to an announcement made by the Saudi government, in the coming years it is set to invest USD 650 billion in developing its country's infrastructure: Oil and gas drills, power stations, ports, airports, communication networks, underwater pipe systems, desalination facilities, refineries, schools and universities. Each of these massive projects can either be opened or closed to American companies.

And Finally, Saudi Arabia is presenting itself as an ally and a bridge between the US and the Middle East; it indiscriminately purchases American weapons and is inundated with American advisors.

Due to the above, no level-headed administration in Washington would dare reject the Mecca Agreement the Saudi king is so proud of, whatever the heads of the administration may think of it.

The Olmert government erred in its approach to Hamas when it blindly believed in an economic-diplomatic siege. A siege is a passive act that only encourages resilience. Israel should have opted for an active policy, yet the Olmert administration didn't take advantage of the opportunity when Abbas almost begged for it – it also didn't take advantage of the opportunity to engage in decisive peace dialogue with the Saudis when they first made such a proposal.

The result is that the Mecca Agreement will establish an emboldened Hamas government that would dance to the tune played by Khaled Mashaal and composed in Riyadh.
Also at YNet, Ronny Shaked looks at what will happen when and if the 'unity government' collapses (and it sounds more like 'when' than 'if'):
And what if the unity government collapses? Hamas still has nothing to lose. If the bogus partnership should fall apart - and this may happen rather quickly – the blame will fall on Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas, not only in the PA but in the entire Arab world as well.

Mecca’s sanctity, coupled with Saudi king’s efforts, was not enough to bridge the gap between Islamist Hamas and the nationalist Fatah organization. It was Abbas who eventually backed down when he agreed to establish a unity government before drafting its guidelines.

Abbas' body language on Thursday testified to the disagreements and to the fact that he understands that the Saudis and Hamas have trapped him.

The important question as far as Israel is concerned is whether the agreement would accelerate Gilad Shalit's return home. Abbas demanded his release as a condition, but it appears that as long as the government is not established, Hamas will continue to take advantage of Gilad Shalit as a bargaining chip in its battle against Fatah.

If the international community recognizes the new government – and this might definitely happen in light of the cracks in the Quartet's stance – Israel could find itself isolated in the face of the stance demanding that it negotiates with the Hamas-led government.

Expressions of unity and joy and an end to the street battles are expected in the Palestinian street in the coming days. But one must not be mistaken. The ideological differences have remained deep and wide as they were, and it is only a question of time before the clashes erupt once again. And have no illusions, even a unity government will not bring an end to terror and the launching of Qassam rockets.
Okay, I am going to say it: I fail to understand why Gilad Shalit's release is 'the important question' for Israel. Sure, we would all like to see him released. But once upon a time, this country did not negotiate with terrorists. Shalit is of no use to Hamas dead, and given that we know that he is alive and well, it is very unlikely that he will now be harmed. I fail to see the urgency to get him home NOW if the cost is going to be so high. And there is no guarantee that Hamas will not turn him into another Ron Arad anyway, regardless of what we give them. I just cannot see the government allowing the entire country to be held hostage and exposed to further terror to free one soldier.

On the question of whether the 'quartet' will recognize the 'unity government' and try to force Israel to deal with Hamas, I believe that they will. I think Sever Plocker understands how this will play in Peoria much better than Khaled Abu Toameh does. Nancy Pelosi wants to have gasoline for her SUV and will frame that as an American interest that trumps support for Israel. Had the IDF soundly defeated Hamas, Hezbullah and Syria last summer, the outcome might have been different. Unfortunately, Olmert lacked the testosterone to even allow the army the chance to get the job done, and under the circumstances, it would be too much to expect the Bush administration to sacrifice everything else they might want to accomplish in the next two years to back Israel. The Olmert-Peretz-Livni government should be forced to resign, but unfortunately, the damage has already been done and gets worse by the day.


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