The Gospel According to Abdullah

The Saudi formula for Palestinian Unity determines that it is sufficient for Hamas to 'respect' the agreements signed between the PA and Israel, rather than being obliged to commit to them.

"The mutual slaughter taking place between Fatah and Hamas does not stem from the clash of these two movements' foreign-policy positions, and it has no connection to the issue of recognizing 'the Zionist enemy,'" wrote Saleh al-Qalab, the former Jordanian minister of information, in an incisive op-ed in the Saudi daily Asharq Al Awsat. In his opinion, the source of the conflict lies in the government of the Palestinian Authority. "Everyone [Fatah, Hamas and others] recognizes Israel as a fait accompli, after all, and no one thinks that Palestine, from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea, is an inviolable Muslim holy site, and everyone shares a single strategic goal of creating a Palestinian state in the territories that were occupied in 1967," Qalab wrote.

The crystal-clear logic of this statement, which reflects the Arab consensus that has existed since at least 2002, is likely to be put to the test this week when Hamas and Fatah leaders, including PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal and PA Chair Mahmoud Abbas meet in the holy city of Mecca, together with Saudi King Abdullah, in an effort to find a magic formula. After the abortive meeting in Damascus last month, whose only winner was Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the previous meeting in Saudi Arabia, during Id al-Adha, which left even more victims behind, Saudi Arabia decided to step out of the shadows in which its foreign-policy maneuvers have always been cloaked, to try to succeed where Egypt's efforts have failed.

Two main obstacles will once again grace the royal conference table: How to give Fatah honorary ministerial portfolios without challenging the fact that it was Hamas that won the elections; and the need to find a foreign-policy formula that would finally free the territories from the economic sanctions imposed on them.

It would appear that the chances are better this time for ending the ideological disagreement. Saudi Arabia is now willing to recognize what has been obvious all along: There is no diplomatic or political solution without Hamas. In addition, Saudi Arabia, in contrast to Israel, Egypt and Jordan, does not have to constantly check back with Washington to decide on the "correct" policy. And so, just as Washington benefits from the fact that Saudi Arabia is waging an open and finely honed campaign against Iran and against that country's activities in Iraq - so, too, the U.S. and its Quartet colleagues will also have to adopt the "Saudi formula" on the question of Palestine. This formula apparently determines that it is sufficient for Hamas to "respect" the agreements signed between the PA and Israel, rather than being obliged to commit to them. Abbas still opposes this formula, but Egypt and Saudi Arabia are already willing to adopt it.

What is the real meaning of this formula? Legally, it is meaningless, just as all the agreements that were not signed as a binding contract have no legal meaning, such as the crumbling road map. But it could have great political and diplomatic significance. It will join Meshal's statement recognizing Israel as a "fact," the fact that Hamas is observing its tahadiya (cease-fire) with Israel and has been saying for some time that its goal is to establish a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, and the fact that Hamas is, by implication, presenting its recognition of Israel as a condition for Israel's recognition of it.

Saudi Arabia, in a smart and sober step, is giving Haniyeh and Abbas equal status in the deliberations. From its perspective, the story in which Abbas is the good guy and Haniyeh the bad guy, Fatah the peacemaker and Hamas the warmongering organization, is over. For Saudi Arabia (and other Arab states), both are killing each other in equal measure. Thus, if they reach an agreement, if they accept Abdullah's formula, no one, and that includes Israel and the U.S., will be able to prevent the wholesale Arab recognition of the Palestinian government.

The formula also affects Israel directly. When the government in Israel is incapable of making itself available to address the peace process, then what is left of it, at least, would be well advised to understand that a corner has been turned. One year after the parliamentary elections that put Hamas into power, not only is the organization's failure not guaranteed but just the opposite is the case. The Palestinian prime minister and his master in Syria have become, in the eyes of Arab leaders, a legitimate part of the solution.