Wednesday, February 07, 2007

ANALYSIS: Mecca summit won't result in compromise in Palestinian Authority

By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz Correspondent

Despite optimistic forecasts of Fatah and Hamas reaching a compromise in Mecca, there is no doubt that the Palestinian national movement is at one of its lowest points in history. This stems from the fact that the Palestinians, who claim to be a coherent national entity, are admitting they are incapable of managing their own affairs, and are compelled to seek outside intervention.

When Fatah and the PLO were founded over 40 years ago, their main slogan was "independent decision making." This meant that the Palestinians would make all decisions affecting themselves independently, based on their own interests, regardless of the interests of other states. The slogan was aimed mainly at the neighboring Arab states, each of which claimed to look out for Palestinian interests, but in reality, looked out for its own. This was true of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and other states that had founded and supported their own Palestinian organizations.

Recently, however, as the internal Palestinian crisis reached the brink of civil war, external Arab intervention in their affairs has increased. The involvement by Egypt, Jordan, Syria and now Saudi Arabia shows that the Palestinians have lost their "independent decision making." They are so weak that they have effectively transferred decision making on their internal affairs to external parties. If, until recently, the Palestinians were constantly attacking Arab governments for their weakness and accusing them of treason, today, they are begging them for help.

No time limit was set on the summit that began in Mecca last night. The participants include the most senior representatives of both camps, as well as two independents: Ziad Abu Amar and Mohammed Rashid (Yasser Arafat's former adviser), both of which have tried to mediate between the sides for weeks.

The likely compromise is fairly clear: Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has almost no room to maneuver. He must find a formula acceptable to the international community in order to end the boycott of the PA. Therefore, Hamas will have to concede something, and indeed, the organization's spokesmen have sounded more moderate in recent days. Once the government's composition is finalized, Abbas can begin diplomatic negotiations and even reach a final-states accord with Israel. But any agreement will require approval by the Palestinian parliament - in other words, by Hamas. Abbas is trying to circumvent this problem with a clause requiring any agreement to be submitted to a referendum.

But the hardest problem of all, which will remain unsolved, is that the PA will have trouble functioning even under a compromise agreement. No agreement will bridge all of the ideological gaps between the parties, and will only slightly assuage the violent power struggles. In other words, even the best Fatah-Hamas agreement will not turn Palestinian society into a Western democracy overnight. A traditional social structure, clan loyalties and political factionalism all create a need for an authoritarian leader, like those of the PA's Arab neighbors. Without a leader like Arafat, society collapses into the rule of violent gangs.

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