Sie haben das Recht zu schweigen. Henryk M. Broders Sparring-Arena

Henryk M. Broder

13.02.2007   10:46   +Feedback

Mocca in Mecca

Kennen Sie den? Fragt ein Mann seinen Freund: “Wie ist so deine Frau im Bett?” - Sagt der Freund: “Die einen sagen so, die anderen so.”
So ähnlich könnte man auch das Abkommen zwischen der Fatah und der Hamas sehen, das in Mecca geschlossen wurde. Auf “bitterlemons” nehmen zwei Israelis und zwei Palöästinenser Stellung. Und alle haben recht. Die einen so, die anderen so:


< "Cautious optimism" - by Ghassan Khatib
What the Mecca agreement has achieved is to put President Mahmoud Abbas
in a much stronger position.


< "Let's watch and wait" - by Yossi Alpher
With a little prodding from Washington, Olmert correctly grasped that
there is no need to respond immediately to events in Mecca.


< "Of paramount importance" - an interview with Asad Abu Shark
The only country that will reject any agreement among the Palestinian
factions is Israel, which is not interested in Palestinian unity.


< “King Abdullah has no intention of compromising” - by Smadar Perry
The Mecca agreement paves the way for Riyadh to revitalize Abdullah’s
2002 peace initiative.

Cautious optimism

by Ghassan Khatib

Palestinians from all over the world, but especially in Gaza, received
the news of the Mecca agreement with a great deal of optimism and
enthusiasm. Politicians and analysts are a little more cautiously

The optimism stems from the fact that, first, this agreement has
already accomplished a ceasefire between the competing groups in Gaza and put
an end to the bloodiest ever internal confrontations between
Palestinian factions.

Second, it marked another small yet significant evolution in the
political position of Hamas in the direction of the PLO’s political platform
and international legality. This, if looked at as part of a series of
developments, creates hope of a possible further narrowing of the
political differences between the different groups, particularly Fateh and

Third, the agreement prepares the ground for the establishment of a
national unity government that the public believes will have a better
chance of success in fulfilling its obligations to the population,
especially with regards to social services, after the failure of the current
government in this aspect.

But there is caution because two other areas of dispute that were
specified in the agenda at Mecca are still unresolved and threaten a
possible renewal of tensions and violence.

One is the reform of the PLO, where Hamas demands changes in both the
political platform and the organization’s composition. That is a
sensitive and dangerous issue because the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause
is embodied by the PLO. If the PLO includes groups like an unchanged
Hamas this might negatively affect the international recognition of the
PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Second is what the parties at Mecca referred to as “political
partnership”. This is essentially code for the redistribution of significant
positions—ambassadors, governors and top civil servants—between Fateh
and Hamas after having been mostly filled by Fateh cadres.

This is not an easy demand. It contradicts the basic requirements of
good governance, since these positions should be filled on the basis of
professional competence rather than factional affiliation. The main
lesson we drew during the process of reforms is that appointments on the
basis of factional loyalty in the early stage of the establishment of the
Palestinian Authority were responsible for the weakness of the
performance of the PA and a cause of corruption.

Outside these internal issues, Palestinians are also hoping for a
positive response from the international community. So far there have been
mixed reactions. Although the official Quartet response reiterated the
well-known international conditions for dealing with the Palestinian
government, it is also apparent that there are differences within the
Quartet. The Europeans seem relatively positive, while the Americans have
chosen not to take an official position yet, in itself more constructive
than a negative response.

It can be hoped that the international community will focus on the
positives. While it is true that the Mecca agreement for a future
government spoke of “respect” for past agreements and international legality,
rather than adherence, and that this might not go far enough for some
parties, it is a step forward and the maximum possible compromise at this

The Saudis are working on obtaining a working definition of “respect”
from Hamas. This might be helpful in marketing the agreement.

What the Mecca agreement has achieved is to put President Mahmoud Abbas
in a much stronger position not only internally but also as far as the
summit on February 19 between him, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is concerned. The
international community, and especially the US, needs to build on this achievement
in a way that can consolidate and strengthen the political position of
Abbas internally.

The international community should also understand that the only
fruitful way to interfere in internal Palestinian politics is by initiating a
political process of the kind that will determine the final outcome
from the start. This will assure Palestinians that such a process is the
safest and shortest way to achieve their legitimate objectives of
statehood and ending the occupation.

If the international community misses this opportunity it will increase
chances of further rounds of confrontations and more frustration and
radicalization among Palestinians as well as Israelis.- Published
12/2/2007 (c)

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet
publications. He is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning,
and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

Let’s watch and wait

by Yossi Alpher

Last week’s Mecca agreement between Fateh and Hamas seems to “work” in
a number of different dimensions, some strategic and some tactical.

At the broadest regional strategic level, the dramatic Saudi success in
bringing Hamas and Fateh to commit to a unity government—where Egypt,
Syria, Qatar and Jordan had all failed—ostensibly strikes a blow
against Iran’s hegemonic drive in the region and portrays Saudi King
Abdullah as the preeminent Arab leader. This is also an agreement that
essentially bypasses Israel’s and the Quartet’s three conditions for dealing
with Hamas. As such, it reinforces the Saudi message to the Bush
administration in Washington, first issued a few months ago when Riyadh
threatened to provide military support to Iraq’s Sunnis if the US withdrew
precipitously, that the Sunni Arab world is taking its distance from
failed American policies in the region.

Judging by initial reactions, particularly in Europe, the agreement is
likely to facilitate a restoration of contacts between the Palestinian
government and at least some of the donor states and some of the
Quartet members, like France and Russia. A billion dollars in Saudi aid will
help alleviate the Palestinian Authority’s financial woes. And at the
tactical or local level, the agreement at least temporarily ends the
Palestinian descent into violent chaos.

But this is a best-case scenario for the agreement. In fact, it is
still much too early to celebrate an Arab and Palestinian success. The
unity government has not yet been formed. Its guidelines are not known. The
key issue of control over security forces has not been conclusively
resolved, not to speak of the fundamental political conceptual gap between
secular Fateh and Islamist Hamas that could shorten the life of the new
cabinet. Any number of relatively minor events in Gaza could reignite
the violence and unravel the new agreement. The initial American
reaction is cold, and the Quartet overall lukewarm: the unity agreement does
not accept their minimal conditions. An Arab-American disagreement over
the new Palestinian government does not necessarily bode well for
broader cooperation against Iran.

All in all, the Mecca agreement could be a step forward or a step
backward, depending on ensuing developments and on the way all sides now
evaluate their positions and their options. What should Israel do?

First of all, we should “keep our powder dry” and watch and wait. With
a little prodding from Washington, PM Ehud Olmert correctly grasped
that there is no need to respond immediately to events in Mecca. The
composition and guidelines of the new PA government, assuming it is formed,
will be instructive as to its intentions. We should listen to Abu Mazen
at next week’s projected Israeli-Palestinian-American summit and seek
to assess whether the Mecca agreement has strengthened or weakened his

We should also sit down with the Americans and reevaluate the famous
three conditions. They are not cast in stone. They were formulated
hastily by Olmert and the Quartet in response to Hamas’ surprising election
victory and the formation of its government a year ago. While it made
sense to demand a pledge to end violence, the current ceasefire, however
sporadic and incomplete, is no worse than previous ones periodically
violated by Fateh. It was presumptuous to demand of Hamas recognition of
Israel when Jerusalem has never insisted that Arab countries offer this
concession prior to signing a peace treaty with it. As for “adhering”
to existing agreements, Hamas has now undertaken to “respect” them, a
semantic distinction that may or may not be significant insofar as both
sides have hitherto violated many of their commitments.

Then there are Israel’s unwritten conditions or expectations. Will this
agreement provide stability and a greater degree of peace and quiet in
Palestine, something Israel also needs? Will it bring about the release
of our abducted soldier? Will it increase positive Arab influence over
the course of events in Palestine? Does this mean that both the
internal and external, Damascus-based leaders of Hamas have, within the space
of a year, begun moderating their ideology?

Alternatively, has Hamas successfully hoodwinked Abbas, Fateh and the
Saudis, who have now unwittingly endorsed the Palestinian Islamist
program? Or is the Mecca agreement yet another flimsy unity structure that
will soon collapse under the weight of Palestinian realities?

We should know within a few weeks. Since a genuine peace process with
Hamas is unlikely, we can in any case afford to wait and see.- Published
12/2/2007 (c)

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet

Of paramount importance

an interview with Asad Abu Shark

bitterlemons: How important is the Mecca agreement for Palestinians?

Abu Shark: The Mecca agreement is of paramount importance. It puts
Fateh and Hamas on track toward the formation of a government of national
unity, and as a result lessens tensions between the two. This, in turn,
has stopped the infighting. It should pave the way for a new chapter in
the relations between Fateh and Hamas.

There was unanimous agreement among the leadership, something that has
been received very well by Palestinians, both inside and outside. Most
people were extremely angry and disappointed at the fighting between
Fateh and Hamas. So the agreement, which comes to conclude and end that
fighting, is a positive development and should ensure that Palestinians
can now dedicate their efforts to end the occupation and remove the
siege against the Palestinian people.

bitterlemons: A lot of blood was spilt. Are you confident this
agreement can contain any violence or desire for revenge?

Abu Shark: I think it will, yes. There is a lot of popular pressure and
I think, should anyone start fighting again, they will find themselves
isolated by public opinion. Both Fateh and Hamas have learned a
valuable lesson from this: the public will not accept that they engage in
violence with each other over authority. Palestinians expect these parties
to dedicate their efforts against the occupation. People were disgusted
by this fighting and by the factions. So for these factions it was
important to reach this agreement and to face the challenges of Israel’s
actions: its continuing settlement expansions, the tightening of the
siege against the Palestinian people and especially now that Israel is
seeking to destroy the Aqsa Mosque.

I believe the factions have learned their lesson and that this
agreement will hold. A government of national unity will follow, especially
since it is a development that has been welcomed by European, Arab and
Muslim countries, and even the Americans, albeit cautiously. The only
country that will reject any agreement among the Palestinian factions is
Israel, which is not interested in Palestinian unity.

bitterlemons: One of the causes of the recent tensions has been the
international freeze on funding to the PA. Are you confident the Quartet
will end this freeze, and why, since the unity agreement does not seem
to fulfill international conditions?

Abu Shark: This agreement was signed in Mecca and was brokered by Saudi
Arabia. It has been blessed by the Arab League and the Organization of
the Islamic Conference. I think Saudi Arabia and the Arab world will
exercise a lot of pressure on the international community to accept it.

In the letter of designation from President Mahmoud Abbas to Ismail
Haniyeh it was made clear that Palestinians would respect their
international commitments. This is a new language that Khalid Meshaal said they
would continue to use. It must be seized on by the international
community to lift the blockade. Otherwise the international community, under
American control, will find no security or peace in this part of the
world and it will lose.

bitterlemons: Do you not think it is possible that Washington might see
this as the beginning of the breaking of Hamas in terms of the
international conditions and want to continue the freeze on funding until Hamas
concedes completely?

Abu Shark: Of course it is possible, especially with this
administration. It will do its best. But I think there will be significant pressure
from other countries and I don’t think Palestinians will give any more
concessions. Ultimately, I hope, the US will realize that it is in its
interest to give a unity government a chance.

bitterlemons: What are you afraid of in case the Quartet does not lift
the sanctions?

Abu Shark: I don’t think the internecine fighting will start again.
That was a black chapter for Palestinian factions that they will not be in
a hurry to repeat. United, Palestinians stand a better chance to face
down these sanctions and put pressure on Arab and Islamic countries to
help the Palestinians, even if America is opposed. And if Israel does
not accept this new reality, then we should put pressure on Arab
countries to end all their relations with Israel. Israel will be exposed as the
obstacle to peace in the Middle East, indeed the world, that it really
is.- Published 12/2/2007 (c)

Asad Abu Shark is a Gaza-based political commentator.

King Abdullah has no intention of compromising

by Smadar Perry

The photos that emerged in the middle of last week from the spacious
and elegant al-Safa Palace in Mecca told the story of events taking place
behind the scenes of the “historic” summit between delegations from
Fateh and Hamas.

In the excitement, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal briefly forgot that
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) had been plotting, with the
blessings of Washington and Jerusalem, to overthrow the Hamas
government in Gaza. The two drove in the same car between cities in Saudi
Arabia, then proceeded to open the reconciliation talks with an inaugural
prayer from the Quran. Waiters produced trays laden with food, the
delegations both slept and deliberated in the palace and the hosts made
themselves scarce except when needed. A few days later, the Palestinian
leaders crowned their agreement with a photo-op visit to the holy site,
wrapped in white robes that symbolized the purity of their intentions.

Only rarely does the royal palace, which overlooks the Kaaba, holy to
hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide, allow the TV cameras
in—although the conference managers did make sure to distance the media from
the many scenes of loud arguments and angry dissent. Saudi Arabia went
all out with the “Mecca summit”, and from the outset allowed that this
was the parties’ “last chance”. King Abdullah wanted to emerge with a
series of diplomatic achievements precisely where his predecessors in
Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and even to some extent Damascus had failed.

As far as we know, at least five of the most senior officials in Saudi
Arabia were recruited to this enterprise: King Abdullah, his brother
Crown Prince Sultan, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, the new
intelligence chief Prince Mukrin bin Abdul-Aziz, and the rising star of the king’s
new open diplomacy, Prince Bandar, the national security adviser. The
senior advisers recommended using an American model of crisis
negotiating and adapting it to Middle East conditions. They knocked heads
together among Abu Mazen, Khaled Meshaal and their large entourages until a
unity government agreement was reached—albeit one cobbled together
hurriedly, under pressure, padded with generous promises of money and
replete with formulations that look fragile and unconvincing. The real test,
all the experts agree, will be whether the promised end of the
bloodletting can be maintained on the ground in Palestine. Israel was barely
mentioned at the Mecca summit.

It now emerges that a week before the Mecca deliberations began,
Meshaal made sure to send an unequivocal clarification from Damascus: there
was no chance of getting Hamas to commit to recognizing Israel. The
movement’s policy, dictated by Meshaal to PM Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza, was
not going to be radically revised. Meshaal signaled to the Saudi monarch
that he could manage just fine without the king’s millions.

Accordingly, the unity government agreement was preordained to deal
with internal Palestinian issues, to generate formulae for cooperation
between Abu Mazen and a Hamas-led government and, most importantly, to
aggrandize the new role of the hosts as crisis managers and negotiators.
If the two Palestinian camps maintain their agreement, the Saudis will
channel a billion dollars for economic projects and aid and rebuilding
schemes to the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The money is a marginal issue for the oil kingdom. The Saudi royal
house is prepared to spend many more hundreds of millions of dollars in
order to achieve its big objective. The administration in Washington
divides the Muslim world between “allies” and “bad guys” (Saudi Arabia,
Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Fateh vs. Iran and Syria). But the Saudis
partition the exact same map along strictly sectarian lines: Sunni Muslims
are the allies of the Wahabi Sunni royal family, as opposed to the
Shi’ites of Iran and Hizballah who seek to bring down the Sunni/majority
government in Lebanon and establish the empire of “correct Islam”. This
confrontation, once suppressed, has become increasingly acute since the
fall of Saddam Hussein and the rise of Iraq’s Shi’ites.

Saudi Arabia perceives a long-term Iranian nuclear threat and a more
acute, pervasive and advanced threat to establish a “Shi’ite crescent”
from Tehran via its Shi’ite allies in Iraq all the way to Hizballah in
Lebanon. The ultimate Iranian objective is to inflame Egypt, the largest
Arab country, and reach the holy of holies, the kingdom where Islam
began. Whoever holds the Kaaba controls the Muslim world. This explains
why the Saudi security and intelligence establishments are waging total
war against fundamentalist cells that were planted with funding and
inspiration from Tehran.

For external consumption, Riyadh has considerably enhanced its
relations with Tehran: national security advisers Ali Larijani from Iran and
the Saudi Prince Bandar exchanged visits in recent weeks. But the Saudi
ambassador in Washington, former intelligence chief Turki al-Faisal (the
brother of the Saudi foreign minister) was summoned home without
ceremony after he called for a dialogue with the ayatollahs. The Saudis are
also increasing their quiet involvement in Iraq and reinforcing the
Siniora government in Lebanon against Iran’s brutal intervention, executed
with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s indulgence.

Despite its drawbacks, the Mecca agreement is now seen in Washington
and among the “good guys” camp in the Arab world as paving the way for
the next step in Riyadh’s effort to reinforce its inter-Arab position. At
the end of next month, the 22 Arab leaders will convene in a summit
designed to revitalize King Abdullah’s peace initiative. The diplomatic
equation is simple: the Arab world, which already approved the plan in
Beirut in 2002, offers Israel full peace and normalization (which will be
tested “on the ground” exactly like the Mecca agreement) in return for
an Israeli commitment to withdraw to the 1967 lines.

Israeli prime ministers have until now evaded responding directly to
the initiative. The Saudi royal house does not intend to let up the
pressure. It has the backing of the United States, which is interested in a
peace process. And the competition is on against the Iranian bid for
the leadership of the Muslim world.- Published 12/2/2007 (c)

Smadar Perry is Middle East editor of the daily Yediot Aharonot.



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