TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck
Transmitted below is an excellent article by Henry Siegman, former head
of the Middle East Program at the Council on Foreign Relations in New
York, which has been published in the INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE.
International Herald Tribune <http://www.iht.com/>
*Mecca opens the way for Europe*
Thursday, February 15, 2007
The recent agreement in Mecca between Fatah and Hamas demonstrates the
fallacy of a widely held belief that the United States alone holds the
key to resolving the Israel- Palestine conflict. In fact, the
Saudi-sponsored accord opens the door to a major European role in the
Middle East peace effort. The question is whether Europe will walk
through that door.
Although Hamas has committed itself to "respect" previous agreements
between the PLO and Israel, it is not yet clear whether the Mecca accord
obligates Hamas to explicitly recognize Israel. What is clear is that if
Hamas and Fatah implement the agreement, form a unity government and
return the rule of law to Gaza and the West Bank, they will have
withdrawn from the brink of a Palestinian civil war that would have
ended for the foreseeable future remaining prospects for a peace process
and Palestinian statehood. That is a major achievement for which Saudi
Arabia's King Abdullah deserves great credit.
Hamas, but by President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah as well, that no
matter how far Hamas might go in meeting the conditions called for by
the so-called Quartet the United Nations, the European Union, Russia
and the United States Israel has no intention of returning to the 1967
border, and the United States has no intention of making the Israelis do so.
There had been at least a theoretical plausibility to the notion that if
Abbas could prove that the moderation he exemplifies yields major
improvements in the lives of Palestinians, he might have been able to
prevail over Hamas. But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his government
not only failed to make such improvements, despite repeated promises to
do so, but humiliated Abbas and destroyed what credibility he had by
pressing him to play the role of a Palestinian Pétain who accepts
Israeli money and arms in order to kill fellow Palestinians. And the
Bush administration has done nothing to press Israel to deliver on its
commitments, beyond Washington's empty rhetoric about a two-state
Every time there emerged the slightest hint that the United States may
finally engage seriously in a political process, Elliott Abrams, who
handles the peace-process portfolio for the White House, would meet
secretly with Olmert's envoys in Europe or elsewhere to reassure them
there exists no such danger.
Now that even Abbas has come to understand the irrelevance of the U.S.
role to any possible advancement of the peace effort, the question is
whether Europe can disengage from its subservience to Washington on this
issue and undertake a constructive initiative of its own. And if the
European Union cannot do it, can a coalition of European countries do so?
The Europeans should announce immediately the end of their boycott of
Hamas and open a dialogue with a new unity government on conditions that
would enable them to end sanctions imposed by the Quartet on the
Palestinian Authority. These conditions should recognize that Hamas
should not be asked to do that which the international community is not
prepared to ask of Israel. Hamas should be asked to declare its
willingness to recognize Israel if and when Israel declares its
recognition of Palestinian rights within the pre-1967 border.
A Palestinian government that receives substantial Saudi financing is
less dependent on the European Union than it was before the Mecca
agreement. But there is no question that European economic assistance,
which undoubtedly would be followed by wider international support,
remains a powerful inducement for Palestinian diplomacy. In the
aftermath of Saudi Arabia's breaking of the taboo against support of a
government that includes Hamas, it should not require all that much
courage to follow in King Abdullah's footsteps. And given U.S.
dependence on the support of moderate Arab regimes in confronting Iran
and in dealing with its troubles in Iraq, it is not at all unimaginable
that such a European initiative will sooner or later bring the United
States along in its wake.
Europeans need to be reminded of the basis for such an initiative. In
March 2004, the presidents of EU countries unanimously declared their
intention not to recognize deviations from the 1967 border that are not
the result of a negotiated agreement. This is the time to act on that