On the Road From Mecca to Riyadh

Instead of making the same mistake with bypass roads leading into an abyss, why not take the high road for a change, the road that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has paved from Mecca to Riyadh?

The news that Ehud Olmert expects Mahmoud Abbas not to include his "associates" in the new government suggests that the prime minister recognizes that the Palestinian unity government is a done deal. He has apparently read the intelligence assessments, according to which the concessions Hamas was driven to make in Mecca have led Arab states to recognize it as a legitimate ruling authority and thus undermined the stance of the Quartet.

Nonetheless, even though the Quartet itself announced over the weekend that it was sufficient for the new Palestinian government to "reflect" (instead of "adopt") the three preconditions for lifting the boycott, Israel insists on fighting a battle that has already been decided by the Mecca agreement. Even though the caravan has passed , the government continues to lay mines along the road the Palestinians are taking toward a unity government.

More than 13 years after the signing of the Oslo accords, which aimed to divide the country anew, the bypass method continues to contribute to deadly accidents. Yitzhak Rabin paved bypass roads the length and breadth of the occupied territories, in order to keep all the settlements in place "until a final settlement." The result: The settlers took advantage of the generosity of successive governments in order to expand their boundaries.

Ariel Sharon forced the Palestinians to bypass an "irrelevant" chairman Yasser Arafat by way of selecting an "irrelevant" prime minister and having to contend with a unilateral disengagement. The result: the Palestinians realized that the only thing the camp of pragmatists, led by Abbas, can be counted on to provide are the benefits of a government to its associates. The Hamas victory was just a matter of time.

Now it's Olmert's turn to pave a Hamas-bypass route. In order to get rid of Hamas, the prime minister is even willing to bypass Mecca and go straight to the upcoming summit in Riyadh. It has been five years since the Arab League first offered Israel normal relations with all its members in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from all the occupied territories, and suddenly Olmert has discovered that the proposal "has positive elements." He is even hopeful that the day will come when we will also be able to talk with the Palestinian Authority. That will be possible, of course, only after Hamas surrenders unconditionally to Israel's demands, or the Palestinians change their government. Whichever comes first.

More than a year after it entrenched its position as a popular grassroots movement, Hamas will not voluntarily disappear from the scene. After the entire Arab League gave its backing to the unity government agreement, without Hamas having had to specifically recognize Israel, no boycott can force Khaled Meshal to utter the magic words, which he considers sacrilege. Now, even his greatest enemies in Fatah cannot blame Meshal of blocking the way to diplomatic negotiations with Israel.

In the absence of a diplomatic solution, we should not expect calm. The territories will burn, the Qassam rockets will fly, and the IDF will return to the Gaza Strip. After Hamas' signing of the Mecca agreement, Egypt and Jordan will find it difficult to carry on with their peace-as-usual, and Israel's fragile relations with them will be in danger of collapse. Referring to these types of options, General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said last week that the army cannot provide a solution to an insurgency of the kind taking place in Iraq, and that while military operations were essential to improving security, they are not enough, and must be augmented by a political dimension.

In theory, Olmert's offer to hold "regional negotiations" with the Arab League on the basis of the Saudi initiative provides that "political dimension" big-time. But if Israel can have talks with the Arab League, why not hold talks with the Palestinian government, which is a legitimate member of that organization? Could it be that Olmert expects the league's secretary, Amr Moussa, to bypass the Palestinian government and conduct, in its place, negotiations with Israel on the exchange of territory and arrangements in Jerusalem?

What does a man with two percent public support have to lose? If Hamas agrees to discuss a final settlement with us, who will stop him? If he avoids doing so - the entire Arab League will stand against him.

Instead of making the same mistake with bypass roads leading into an abyss, why not take the high road for a change, the road that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has paved from Mecca to Riyadh?