As I wrote elsewhere
, everyone has agreed that the Palestinian unity talks that began today in Mecca must succeed, as all sides have vowed. They are held in the holy city of Mecca, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has put his prestige on the line for the success of the negotiations. On the other hand, as Danny Rubinstein points out in Haaretz,
there is little chance that they can succeed. The real question is, how will "success" be defined? If they do "succeed," is this "success" likely to be good for Israel or for chances of peace?
Nobody expects any agreement to turn Palestinian society into a Western democracy overnight, however, and that is not the critical issue that must be resolved.
The big issues, mostly ignored by Rubinstein, must be understood clearly by anyone seeking to evaluate whatever agreement comes out of this summit:
Does the agreement meet Quartet and EU standards to allow the renewal of aid to the PNA and make the PNA into a peace partner once again? As Rubinstein notes this is one huge hurdle. Hamas and Fatah may come up with a formula that satisfies Palestinians, but it is not clear that that formula will satisfy the Quartet and the donor countries. A vague reference to "abiding by past agreements" may not be enough. Real agreement to a peace process would require revocation of the Hamas charter, which calls for destruction of Israel by violent Jihad. Both violence and destruction of Israel are forbidden according to the roadmap.
Who has the power over the budget in the PNA? - Unless all the money is handled transparently, there is no way to overcome charges of corruption and there is no way to check that funding is not being used to purchase arms and hire more thugs, which seems to be the major allocation for much of the funding reaching the PNA at present.
Who is in charge of security? - At present of course, there are several competing groups in charge of security, all officially recognized and funded. Some work for Hamas, some work for Fatah. This is partially responsible for the utter chaos and internecine fighting which has taken many lives in recent weeks.
Will violence against Israel continue? - The lowest common denominator basis for Palestinian unity is the Prisoners' Letter, which states its support for continued "resistance" to the occupation. Cessation of violence is a condition of the roadmap. Truly nonviolent resistance would of course still be permitted. Even if an agreement about this issue is reached, it doesn't seem likely to be implemented.
Are armed groups going to be disarmed? - In addition to the security forces, Palestinian factions maintain armed groups that carry out terror operations against Israel, and in recent weeks, terror operations against each other. Fatah el Aqsa, Izzedin el Qassam and others regularly shoot at each other and sometimes at Israelis. In Palestinian society, political power literally grows out of the barrels of guns. Until these groups are disarmed, and until there is a unified security command, there little chance that any agreement can be kept, or that there can be any real democracy.
Will the Hamas become a member of the PLO, and on what basis? - This issue is related to acceptance of Israel as a partner for peace. However, there are other issues involved, because PLO membership for Hamas will change the character of both the PLO and the Hamas, and it will necessitate major power-sharing concessions by the Fatah movement.
Can there be successful negotiations for prisoner releace? - Israeli-Palestinian talks cannot get underway in earnest unless there is a reasonable (or even unreasable) deal for releasing the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. Until now, progress in this direction has apparently been vetoed by Hamas, because of opposition of Khaled Meshal. That is the opinion of Egyptian President Mubarak.
Will Hamas become independent of Syria and Iran? - This is the really crucial question. As long as Hamas is dependent on Syria and Iran, there is little prospect that it will support an American or European-inspired peace effort, because both Syria and Iran are opposed to such an effort.
A likely and rather gloomy outcome is that the talks will result in a photo opportunity and perhaps an "agreement." This agreement, even if it is kept, and even if it is satisfactory to the donor countries, will not result in any real progress. Hamas after all, can meet all of the requisite conditions, and still try to veto any peace agreement whatever. The Prisoners' Letter calls for return of the refugees and 1967 borders. Abbas and the Fateh will never be able to come up with a peace agreement that includes those conditions. While they are opening gambits for moderates, they are probably minimal conditions for Hamas. Therefore, Hamas is in a good position to agitate against any agreement, because it would ahve to violate the conditions of the Prisoners' Letter.
In this case, the rational scenario, the Palestinians will enjoy aid from the EU and USA and support of the Arab states. Very likely, for example, the meeting will endorse the Arab peace initiative, which has sufficient "creative ambiguity" in it to allow for destruction of Israel while seemingly endorsing peace. It is compatible with continued terror and with demands for return of the refugees for example. The US and EU cannot very well oppose the Arab peace initiative, a darling of the Saudis, if they want Saudi cooperation in keeping the price of oil down and support for the US efforts in Iraq and Iran.
What can Israel's diplomatic response be?
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