Abbas Mecca Sellout Dooms Rice Mission

The capitulation by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Fatah faction, to Khaled Meshaal, the supreme leader of the terrorist group Hamas in their talks in Mecca, doomed to failure Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s ill-fated three-way summit a week later in Jerusalem with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In the Mecca talks, arranged and brokered by Saudi Arabia, Abbas agreed to form a “government of national unity” with Meshaal, in which members of his Fatah movement would join the Palestinian government headed by Ismail Haniyeh. Coming as it did on the eve of Rice’s visit, Abbas pulled the pins out from under the U.S. Secretary of State just as she was starting a full-court press to revive the long-stalled “Middle East Peace Road Map,” which calls for a two-state solution.

The problem with the Rice-arranged summit is that Abbas totally caved in to the terrorist leaders of Hamas by agreeing to a government of national unity with absolutely no concessions by Hamas on the key demands of the “Quartet” which supports the Middle East Peace Road Map. Hamas made it clear, both at Mecca and afterward that it had no intention of even tacitly recognizing the State of Israel, that it would continue to engage in “armed struggle” against Israel, and would not recognize agreements undertaken by the Palestine Liberation Organization under the 1993 Oslo Accords. Under those accords, the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist and renounced terrorism, although PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat promptly and consistently ignored those promises. In turn Israel’s government, then headed by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who would later be assassinated for his risks for peace, recognized the PLO as the “sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” The problem is, among many others, Hamas is not a formal member of the PLO and has refused several invitations that it come under its umbrella. Even though Abbas in Mecca issued a statement calling on the Hamas leadership to “respect” all previous agreements between the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel, there has been an absolute refusal to do so. One high-ranking Hamas official, in the aftermath of the Mecca talks, went so far as to say that Israel “does not even exist in the imagination” of the terrorist group.

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Rice might have been wiser to have canceled the summit in Jerusalem with Ehud Olmert, whose own political standing in Israel has plummeted and with Mahmoud Abbas, who was weak and ineffectual even before Hamas last year won the Palestinian parliamentary elections. Rice bravely attempted to put the best face on what turned out to be a meaningless photo-op in which Olmert and Abbas exchanged stiff hand-shakes, while refusing to even call the talks “negotiations,” according to an article by Helene Cooper and Steven Erlanger in The New York Times. The Times reporters quote an American official who called the Olmert-Abbas-Rice discussions an “informal dialogue,” and the official statement only managed to refer to them as “efforts.”

In international affairs, “E for Effort” is not a substitute for meaningful progress. Regrettably, the Quartet of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia have not been unified in their response to the Mecca accords. After some initial waffling, European leaders told Abbas last weekend that the new unity government must recognize Israel and renounce violence before frozen aid money is released. Predictably, the increasingly uncooperative Russia has urged the release of financial support for the Palestinian Authority despite the Hamas refusal to meet the key demands of the Middle East peace Road Map.

Rice did her best to put a smiley-face on the empty Abbas-Olmert Summit. “Sure, we could have said we’ll just wait until it all sorts out,” she said, adding that the Mecca agreement made it essential that Olmert and Abbas “clear the air between them.” The Times quotes Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Cener, who was a senior adviser for Arab-Israeli relations at the State Department under the previous three presidents as giving credit to Rice for at least getting Olmert and Abbas to meet. He added, appropriately, “Oddly enough, we’re now dressed up for the party, but we’ve got nowhere to go.” Real progress, if it is to happen, will occur only when the new Palestinian government is prepared to live up to the established demands of the international community. We are not holding our breath in anticipation of such an event in the immediate future, but we have not given up hope.

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