Text size

The next logical step after the Mecca agreement is to convene a similar meeting in Israel - to seat Ehud Olmert in one of the enormous green chairs in the host palace, to show him the Kaaba and to tell him to sign. Because whatever the pundits may say regarding the accord, one thing is certain: It passes the ball of opportunities to Israel's court.

Assuming that, at least in the short term, Hamas and Fatah make a major effort to resolve the essential details remaining in the accord - for example, unifying the Palestinian security forces under a single command - and assuming that this accord, when implemented, will lead to the economic blockade imposed on the Palestinian Authority to be lifted, at least by the Arab countries, Israel will face a new Palestinian reality. A reality in which Hamas is an essential partner since it has made a significant step toward recognizing Israel.

In principle, Hamas has agreed to honor, without committing itself to implement, the agreements signed with Israel and the decisions of the Arab League, including the Beirut decision of 2002, which deals with the conditions for normalization with Israel. Although this consent is theoretical in nature, it signifies a historic concession in the movement's position, especially with regard to the validity of the Oslo accords. Now, even if the conditions for the agreement's implementation do not develop, this fact will be recorded as evidence of Hamas' ideological moderation, which it would be difficult for the movement to retract.

Honoring past agreements also means agreeing in principle to the establishment of two states, which corresponds to the declarations made by Hamas leaders about aspiring to establish a state within the 1967 borders. At the same time, the agreement limits Mahmoud Abbas' ability to conduct negotiations with Israel on his own, should Israel persist in its opposition to recognizing the government, which will be formed as a result of this agreement. It is becoming increasingly clear to Abu Mazen, and to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, that from now on every Palestinian decision will be subject to the veto or consent of Khaled Meshal. If until now Meshal was only able to set the tone for Hamas' decisions, from now on Abbas and Meshal will have to coordinate on a practical level as well. Meshal's power will only increase if the sides reach the stage of practical discussions about reorganizing the PLO.

Thus, this agreement also closes the breach Israel used to toy with its theoretical policy of strengthening or weakening Abbas. Nothing Israel does could strengthen Hamas more than the Mecca agreement has, and no failure could further weaken Abbas.

The question now, therefore, does not concern the errors Israel made in its attitude toward Abu Mazen from the moment he began his tenure, or how Israel is about to lose its ability to continue a policy of sanctions against the PA. The effort that will be required of Israel is to understand that the political reality the Mecca agreement is supposed to create in the territories is not a passing mirage, but rather a springboard for changing its policy.

It is true that this agreement can easily be considered insufficient and too weak in its expression of recognition of Israel or in its commitment to the diplomatic process. It is also strewn with time bombs that can undermine it at any moment: How will the funds be distributed when they arrive? What power will Mohammed Dahlan hold? (His appointment as deputy to Ismail Haniyeh is like appointing Tommy Lapid to serve as the deputy of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.) And who will succeed in gaining control of Gaza's street gangs, which do not belong to Fatah or Hamas?

But the government of Israel should not wish for the agreement's demise. Rather, unlike its usual mode of operation, it should initiate the next step. For example, to resume the negotiations on releasing prisoners, to build a joint mechanism with the new government to address ongoing issues, to open the Rafah crossing, to implement - this time, for real - the easements promised to Abbas. Not a diplomatic process, heaven forbid, and not an "abandonment of principles" - merely the fulfillment of the duties incumbent upon the occupier.

This is also the new threshold on which the road map must be placed, if anyone is still ready to present it.