Monday, February 05, 2007

ANALYSIS: Mecca Meeting puts Saudi Leadership on challenge, By Mohammed Mar'i

Mecca Meeting Puts Saudi Leadership on Challenge

By Mohammed Mar'i
(Arab American Media Services. Permission granted to republish.)

(Ramallah, Occupied Palestine)--The Palestinians, who their faces and hearts directed towards Mecca five times a day in prayers, questioned what the Mecca meeting between Palestinian rivals will conclude on Tuesday after the Quartet meeting and previous Arab mediations failed to end the Palestinian strife.

The Palestinians expressed their depression from the results of Quartet's meeting in Washington. The Quartet, as the Palestinians expected, was supposed to intervene in the fierce infighting in Gaza and to end the financial and political boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Contrarily, the Quartet reaffirmed the international aid embargo against the Hamas-led Palestinian government unless it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and accepts past peace agreements signed between the PLO and Israel. Hamas has refused to meet those terms up to now, leading to a cutoff of direct international aid and a breakdown of services and order in the Palestinian Authority. Political and financial sanctions imposed by the international community have failed to bring down the Hamas-led government. Many observers today admit that they were mistaken in their earlier assessments that Haniyeh's government would collapse as a result of the local and international pressure. Their predictions that Hamas's popularity would drop have also proven to be wrong.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hopes that replacing the current Hamas-led government with a more moderate national unity government would be enough to persuade the West and Israel to lift crippling sanctions imposed on the Palestinian government to pressure it to abandon its militantly anti-Israel stand. But previous rounds of coalition talks between Abbas and Hamas leaders to convince Hamas to change its positions in order to save the Palestinian Authority from government, social and economic collapse, as well as from catastrophic anarchy have ended in failure and often led to new bloodletting. The last round of talks for forming a national unity government was held between Abbas and Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal in Damascus last month. They failed to reach an agreement over the distribution of cabinet portfolios in the proposed unity government, mainly the Interior Ministry, which is formally responsible for the PA security forces, and the political platform of the government.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invited Abbas, Mashaal, and Prime Minster Ismail Haniyeh to meet in the holy city of Mecca in a step to end the mutual slaughter taking place between Fatah and Hamas, and to solve the internal conflict which lies in the formation of a Palestinian national unity government. Saudi Arabia is trying by this political maneuver to succeed where Egypt, Qatar, Jordan and Syria have failed.

Observers see that what Saudi Arabia needs is to find a foreign-policy compromise that would free the Palestinian Authority from the international political and financial siege imposed on them. Once a compromise is found, the obstacles of distributing ministerial portfolios will be secondary if the two sides have the real intention to resolve the crises.

It would appear that there is a chance for Saudi Arabia to recognize the real stands of the two Palestinian sides. It can clarify if there is a diplomatic or political solution with Hamas, or that the internecine fighting between Fatah and Hamas no more than a struggle for power and domination of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO. Saudi Arabia has the chance to bring the two Palestinian factions back to the rationale that no one can eliminate the other. It seems that reviving the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 of Saudi King Abdullah will be of great interest at this time. The initiative "called for full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967, in implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, reaffirmed by the Madrid Conference of 1991 and the land-for-peace principle, and Israel's acceptance of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, in return for the establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel". For Hamas, the initiative can be a suitable approach towards Israel in light of Mashal's last month statement recognizing Israel as a "fact" and calling for long Hudna (cease-fire) with Israel in exchange of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and by implicitly presenting its recognition of Israel as a condition for Israel's recognition of it. Hamas can put the initiative pack on track as a basis for future peace negotiation with Israel remembering Israeli defense Minister Amir Peretz saying last year that Israel "must deal with the Saudi initiative as a basis for negotiations".

Saudi Arabia , once Hamas and Fatah accepted this compromise, can adopt this political step and formed a Palestinian national unity government without previous US consultation. Saudi Arabia can acquire recognition from the Quartet, mainly the US which benefit from the regional role of Saudi Arabia in dealing with Iran's Nukes and against its activities in Iraq. Moreover, the moderate policy of Saudi Arabia enabled the Kingdom to resolve Arab disputes in the last century. In 1973, Saudi Arabia ended the crisis between Iraq and Kuwait when Iraq infiltrated the Kuwaiti boundaries. In 1989, Saudi Arabia succeeded in putting an end to the Lebanese civil war by concluding the Taif Agreement.

An agreement in Mecca, on the basis of Arab Peace Initiative, or on the basis of Hamas "respecting" the Quartet preconditions, is of high significance for the Palestinians and Saudi Arabia. For Palestinians, it seems that it will be the last chance before sliding to a civil war taking into consideration the rising military forces and arsenal in both sides. The Mecca meeting will be the last chance for the Palestinians before moving to the second phase of confrontation backed by the US and Iran after the phase of financial siege failed. For Saudi Arabia, it is a chance to prove its leading regional role despite the fact that the Quartet's reaffirmation of its January 30, 2006 preconditions minimized the chance of Saudi Arabia to success. Besides it will be a step for Saudi Arabia to regain consideration for its peace initiative which was rejected and humiliated by Israel. The Initiative was adopted by the Arab League in its summit at Beirut on March 28, 2002. Ariel Sharon, then Israeli Prime Minster, launched in the next day the "Operation Defensive Shield" where he reoccupied all major West Bank cities. Failing to achieve an agreement, the regional leadership will be dominated by Iran.

*(Mohammed Mar'i is a freelance Palestinian journalist based in Ramallah, Occupied Palestine. He can be reached at