The Palestinians After the Summit / Bring in Hamas

Fatah's violent dispersal of the Hamas rally against the Annapolis summit in Hebron attests to Mahmoud Abbas' determination to seal every crack Hamas might slip through. At the same time, it illustrates that the Palestinian Authority chairman is dealing with a time bomb.

The key question now is whether Abbas will turn Gaza into a new place of exile for Palestinians and abandon the Palestinian principle of creating a single state incorporating Gaza and the West Bank. Or will he find a way to include Hamas?

It is clear to Abbas and Washington that an all-out war by Fatah on Hamas is impossible without massive military intervention by Israel. If Abbas enlists Israeli help for such a cause, he would undermine his legitimacy and turn Hamas into a victim. Hamas' leadership, however, objects to negotiating with Israel - let alone recognizing it - and thus excludes itself from the political equation reached at Annapolis.

The only reasonable course of action, then, is to reconcile the rival Palestinian factions and try to redefine the relationship between Hamas and the PA. One must bear in mind that Saudi Arabia failed to bring about such a reconciliation at the Mecca summit in February and that since Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza in June, talks between the factions have not yielded results. Egypt, however, has recently declared a number of times that it intends to renew intra-Palestinian talks after Annapolis. Its hopes are based on appeasing statements made by Hamas leader Khaled Meshal as well as other Hamas officials.

An Egyptian official told Haaretz yesterday that his country has not lost hope that a solution to the Palestinian crisis is at hand and that "very soon" we will hear about it. His optimism is based on Hamas' stance just before the establishment of the Palestinian unity government, when it accepted Arab League decisions. At that time, Hamas was not opposed to Abbas holding talks with Israel as long as its leadership was not involved and it did not have to recognize Israel.

If Arab states - headed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia - manage to revive talks between Fatah and Hamas, Abbas would be hard-pressed to reject Hamas, especially as Saudi Arabia has strengthened his standing by attending Annapolis. Moreover, how could Abbas hold negotiations with Israel while Gaza is running out of fuel and its electricity is being reduced? Washington too should find a way to redefine its insistence on "disbanding terror infrastructure," a motto set in stone on the road map - a motto that has so far thwarted the road map's implementation.

If Israel refuses to incorporate Gaza and include Hamas in the talks, there is no chance of reaching a solution - certainly not within a year. In such a case, it will keep clinging to the road map as a shield against reaching a deal.