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Monday, February 12, 2007

Mecca deal good for Israel?

An unlikely thesis...

Ron Ben-Yishai 
Mecca deal good for Israel?

Saudi mediation weakens Iranian influence on Palestinians; deal may bring calm
Published:  02.12.07, 07:30 / Israel Opinion

If Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh manage to implement the Mecca agreement in the Palestinian territories, Israel may benefit as well, particularly in the security sphere. If the implementation fails, the very existence of the Mecca deal is bad for Israel on all fronts: Both diplomatically and security-wise.
This is the bottom line. But when we examine what was achieved through the Saudi king's mediation effort, we must recall that the Mecca deal is first and foremost an intra-Palestinian matter. It reflects the new balance of power, both politically and militarily, between Hamas and Fatah. This balance of power was created in the stormy year since Hamas came to power. It also includes an attempt to institutionalize and reinforce the patterns of government partnership between the radical Islamic branch and the main secular branch.
The agreement, however, does not include an unequivocal decision on the question of recognizing Israel and the way to reach peaceful coexistence with it.
The complex wording cannot hide the fact that Hamas continues to cling to its traditional positions, as does Fatah. The agreement between the two factions is pragmatic and meant to enable them to end the mutual bloodshed and receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the Saudis and Europeans. Therefore, from a diplomatic point of view, the deal is bad for Israel. It lifts the international pressure on Hamas to moderate its positions and enables it to establish itself in power without changing its ideological stance.
Moreover, the agreement will enhance the pressure on the Israeli government to enter into diplomatic negotiations on a final-status agreement with Abbas and make concessions before it's even clear whether Abbas, who serves as a moderate front for Hamas, can deliver the goods. This could lead to a situation where terrorism continues while Israel faces international pressure to implement what was agreed on with Abbas.
On the other hand, the Mecca deal features one important diplomatic ray of light: The mere fact that Saudi Arabia was the one that mediated and brought about the agreement boosts the influence of the sane elements in the Arab world on the Palestinian arena and weakens the influence of Iran and its emissaries.
From an Israeli security-related point of view, the agreement has several clear advantages: The Shin Bet director already said recently that the gravest danger faced by Israel in the Palestinian arena stems from the crumbling of society and violent anarchy in the Territories. The armed chaos allows Iran, Hizbullah and al-Qaeda to infiltrate the Territories and boos their influence. The absence of a central government with the ability to enforce its will, and the armed clans along with small yet murderous organizations such as Islamic Jihad dictate the Palestinian agenda. Their objective is to worsen the conflict with Israel in order to drag both Fatah and Hamas into it and enhance the motivation for terror attacks among the population.
Calm good for everyone
Under the cover of chaos, the smuggling tunnels on the Philadelphi route are operating with no interruptions and the lack of monitoring at the Rafah crossing allows arms, technological know-how and terrorists to constantly pour into the Strip. If through some miracle, Abbas, Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal are able to implement the Mecca agreement and stabilize a functioning central government, there's a chance to change this state of affairs.
Both Hamas and Fatah need the lull in the fighting with Israel in order to receive assistance and redeploy. Therefore, they may act together to restrain the rebellious elements. Hence, if the Mecca deal is implemented, we can expect a period of relative calm, which Israel needs no less than the Palestinians.
We must admit that the IDF and new chief of staff need a lull at this time in order to repair the flaws discovered during the second Lebanon War, in order to rebuild the ground forces and train then, and in a bid to renew the faith in the army's top brass. The Israeli defense establishment also needs the lull in order to digest and implement the Winograd Commission conclusions on the personal level (also regarding the prime minister, defense minister, and several general staff officers) as well as on the system level.
No less important, a timeout, if used properly, will enable the defense system to rapidly advance urgent security projects that would allow the State of Israel to better address the threats it faces at all theaters. We're talking about three projects: Fortifying western Negev communities, developing systems that intercept rockets and short and medium range missiles, and the completion of the security fence.
Hamas will indeed make use of the period of calm, should it materialize, in order to continue building its new military infrastructure in the Gaza Strip based on the second Lebanon War's lessons. Yet in any case, Hamas is already using the anarchy to vigorously work on constructing the infrastructure for tunnels and the smuggling of know-how and arms, and therefore a calm in the Strip as a result of the Mecca deal won't change the situation much on that front. It may only serve to provide Israel with a clearer address for diplomatic and military pressures.
The improvement of the economic situation in Palestinian Authority areas as a result of the foreign aid to be provided may also minimize the motivation for terrorism and boost Abbas' status. All of this depends, as noted, on the extent to which the Hamas and Fatah leaderships are able to overcome the personal and extended clan animosity and contain the desire for revenge that emerged in recent months. All those may turn the Mecca agreement into a dead letter within a short period of time.
In addition, the respective Palestinian leaderships need to:

Unite Palestinian security apparatuses and bring them under the effective command of the new interior minister. To that end, the "operational force" set up by Hamas will have to be brought into the Palestinian Authority's existing apparatuses. This is not an easy task, and in fact an almost impossible one.
Enforce a ceasefire on Islamic Jihad and other rebellious groups.
Bring the negotiations on the release of Gilad Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners to a successful conclusion
Agree on a mechanism that would effectively control the Rafah Crossing and crossings into Israeli territory.
 If the Hamas leadership and Abbas are able to implement these moves, there's a chance the Mecca agreement will open a new intermediate chapter that is better not only for the Palestinians, but also for Israel. What will happen after this timeout? We shall see.
Yet experience shows that the Palestinians are experts at missing opportunities, even when we're talking about improving their own condition in every way. Therefore, it would be appropriate to keep expectations low in Israel as well and prepare for a situation where in a few months Israel will have no choice and the IDF will have to launch a wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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