Four months after the Mecca agreement on a Palestinian unity government, Saudi Arabia has come to realize that the patronage and pressure that produced the deal were not enough to keep it alive. Egypt, which was not involved in the Mecca summit but supported its outcome, has been recruited one again to try to save the agreement and reach a cease-fire that could lead to the renewal of talks over the functioning of the Palestinian unity government, in order then to advance the Arab peace initiative.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have recently been developing a new plan, a kind of sophisticated version of the Arab initiative, whose goal is to present Israel and the Palestinians with a window of opportunity that will include lifting the economic blockade of the Palestinian Authority, establishing industrial zones along the Gaza-Egypt border and reaching a long-term cease-fire. During the course of the truce, if it proves stable, the Quartet and its Arab counterpart would be brought into a marathon of talks with Israel until a political agreement is reached. An agreement in principle on the matter has already been reached by Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Egyptian sources say it is clear to all sides that without a stable cease-fire between Fatah and Hamas, it will be impossible to move on to a cease-fire with Israel indicating that the new initiative, too, is liable to dissolve before it is born. The experience of the last two months has shown that when an internal Fatah-Hamas war is underway, it turns fairly quickly into a war against Israel. In order to overcome this, Saudi Arabia is wielding its influence on Fatah, Hamas and Syria. However, Saudi Arabia has gotten the cold shoulder from Syria and has realized that Iran now also plays a role in exerting calm.
In Damascus over the weekend, Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal met with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who "recommended" that Meshal reach an internal agreement with Fatah in order to display a united front against Israel. On the basis of the Iranian "recommendation" and Saudi pressure, Meshal is apparently prepared to begin intensive negotiations with the Fatah leadership to build a new menu for agreements between them, the kind that will include significant changes in the structure of the Palestine Liberation Organization, such that Hamas will be able to receive an influential share that matches its size.
Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman is focusing his presure on this proposal, with the intention of turning the Mecca deal into a more detailed document that includes an internal Palestinian road map, along with a binding timetable.
Suleiman has decided to try a new tactic this time. Instead of bringing all the Palestinian sides together at once, he is meeting with them separately and gradually. Suleiman met with Meshal's deputy, Musa Abu Marzuk, over the weekend in an effort to reach a long-term cease-fire with Israel, accompanied by intensive Egyptian intervention in the Fatah-Hamas struggle, aimed at reaching new internal Palestinian agreements.
If he can reach an agreement in principle on this, Suleiman will be able to make progress on the Hamas-Israel cease-fire track. That is Egypt's preferred track, since Cairo vehemently opposes the informal suggestion in Israel that international forces be stationed along the border with Israel.
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