Minimum to Lift Economic Siege

For a while, it seemed as though Khaled Meshal was the Palestinian president, rather than Mahmoud Abbas.

In his speech, Meshal stressed the commitment to stop the bloodshed among the Palestinian factions and continued cooperation with Abbas. He did not utter a word about the political issues the two had agreed upon.

In the government appointment letter, Abbas called on Ismail Haniyeh to honor (not to commit to) the signed agreements (without saying with whom) and to honor the international decisions and the Arab League's resolutions.

There is no commitment in the letter to maintain past agreements and no direct recognition of Israel. But its wording is sufficient, at least for Saudi King Abdullah, to lift the siege on the Palestinian Authority. It holds the essential turning point in Hamas' position: the acceptance in theory of the agreements and resolutions, including the Oslo Accords and the Arab League resolutions, such as those adopted by the Arab summit conference in Beirut in 2002, dealing in terms of normalization with Israel.

On the other hand, Hamas' insistence on the term "to honor" instead of "to commit to" turns the theoretical recognition into something impractical and appears to limit Abbas' ability to negotiate with Israel. A government that cannot commit to uphold past agreements, will not want to take part in drafting future ones. Abbas will be appointing a cabinet which is not committed to the resolutions from which he derives his power and authority.

All the parties, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, seem to understand that in view of the political situation in Israel and Washington's lack of interest in advancing the political process, it is better to make do with managing the internal Palestinian crisis.

Another question is whether the national unity government would be able to function. The portfolio allocation was agreed on before the Mecca gathering, following the monetary temptation the king had offered the Palestinians if they set up a unity government. Arab sources say the new government will get half a billion dollars now for "routine maintenance" and additional large sums for rehabilitation and development later.

However, it is unclear whether it will be possible to merge the armed Hamas and Fatah forces into one.

While the agreement is still subject to the approval of various clauses - for example, Mohammed Dahlan's authority as deputy prime minister - Saudi Arabia has good cause for satisfaction. The agreement will not only enable it to lift the economic siege and funnel money to the PA, but it will block Iranian involvement in the Palestinian problem and keep it in "Arab hands."