Best to refrain from kissing this time
Does Abbas have any option left vis-a-vis Israel after Hamas conquered Gaza and he imposed a national boycott on it?
Let's assume that Ehud Olmert arrives tomorrow for the meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan with a Cracker Jack box from which he releases Marwan Barghouti. Can we expect Abbas to say thank you and not to also demand the release of the Hamas ministers and members of parliament jailed in Israel? Can the "president of all the Palestinians" compose a list of prisoners that includes only Fatah members and thus become the president of the Villages Association, an entity appointed by Israel?
And what would Abbas do with the liberated Barghouti, nominate him for elections? Because without elections, Barghouti (and Israel) cannot implement the results of the survey published last week that showed he would garner 59 percent of the vote if elections were held today. It is worth noting one small thing: The support for Barghouti is for the post of chairman; that is, he would compete against the pleasant-faced Abbas. Let's also put aside for the moment the fact that Khalil Shikaki, whose research center conducted the survey, was unable to predict the results of the previous elections, when Hamas won by a large majority. And exactly which elections could Israel and the Palestinians expect - elections that take place only in the West Bank, without Jerusalem and Gaza? And who would recognize them?
Tomorrow, when the four leaders embrace - best to refrain from kisses this time - it would be fitting to ask Abbas about which political platform he seeks to promote in the negotiations. Is the Prisoners' Document still in effect? Abbas surely recalls that precisely one year ago he threatened to submit the document to a referendum if Hamas did not adopt it. At the time, Abbas presented a tough ultimatum, no less tough than his determined words late last week about not conducting any dialogue with Hamas.
But this is the same document that Barghouti composed with senior (and imprisoned) representatives of Hamas, the Popular Front, Islamic Jihad and the Democratic Front. It includes, among other things, a sanctification of the right to resist the occupation by any means, in addition to the opening of a channel of political negotiations. It demands the formation of a national unity government and emphasizes incorporating Hamas and the other factions into the PLO. This is almost an identical demand to the one Fatah and Hamas signed in the Mecca agreement in February, which was not implemented, in no small part due to Fatah's ploys. Is this still Abbas' platform now?
Abbas also insists that in addition to releasing prisoners, removing checkpoints, creating territorial contiguity in the West Bank, and various other gestures, negotiations should start immediately.
And what happens if not? Does Abbas have any option left vis-a-vis Israel after Hamas conquered Gaza and he imposed a national boycott on it? It is not pleasant to admit, but Hamas served during the past two years as the Palestinian Authority's whip against Israel. As long as Abbas was able to demonstrate his moderating influence on Hamas and its branches, and to facilitate some sort of cease-fire, his standing grew stronger in Israel's eyes. Now, after completely losing control over the source of fire, he can only ask for understanding and perhaps compassion.
The nature of this Israeli understanding, and even more so its compassion, is completely clear to three of the four leaders who will sit at the table tomorrow. Olmert's "far-reaching concessions" will be a pale reflection of Sharon's "painful steps," which at least pulled the Israel Defense Forces and the settlers out of the Gaza Strip. Because someone who is unable to decide to immediately transfer wounded Palestinians from Gaza to Israel is unable to order the massive release of prisoners or to utter the directive to remove checkpoints - not to speak of seriously engaging in negotiations. But even if, in some miraculous way, negotiations begin, the first question will be: Who will fight terror? Will it be those who did not fight in Gaza?
The international solidarity, especially the Arab solidarity, with Abbas and his government, is really heartwarming. The sweeping disgust felt toward Hamas is understandable and is not unjustified. But when the emotions settle down, the Quartet should remember that it is also necessary to manage the territories and, in particular, to establish a state there. In all of the territories.