By Bankrolling the unity government and helping form a unity government the Saudis have thrown a monkey wrench into US Israeli plans to sideline Hamas or even destroy it by arming Fatah.
Rice's Mideast Paradox
Palestinian Pact Bumps
Into Three-Way Talks
By NEIL KING JR. in Washington and CAM SIMPSON in Jerusalem
Wall Street Journal
February 16, 2007; Page A8
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will confront a paradoxical
when she arrives this weekend in the Middle East: Is peace among
Palestinians bad for potential peace with Israel?
Ms. Rice's trip to Israel comes as the two main Palestinian factions --
Islamist militant group Hamas and the Fatah party of Palestinian
Mahmoud Abbas -- are trying to cement a Saudi-brokered unity
Their aim is to stanch the recent bloodshed between them and to win the
financial backing of the outside world.
The budding political alliance between Hamas -- which refuses to
Israel's existence or to renounce the use of violence -- and Fatah has
thrown a wrench into Ms. Rice's plans to start peace talks between Mr.
and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Until a week ago, when Saudi
jumped in to broker a settlement between the two factions, the Bush
administration was arguing that the time was ripe to start talking
future Palestinian state.
Ms. Rice is sticking to her plans to hold three-way talks Monday with
Israeli and Palestinian officials. "You can't wait for the perfect
circumstances," she told reporters yesterday on the eve of her trip,
that it would be a mistake not to keep ties strong with Mr. Abbas and
advantage of his commitment" to eventual peace with Israel.
Skeptics, including some Israeli officials, are wondering if Ms. Rice
wise to proceed on this trip, especially when the Palestinian political
scene is in such turmoil. "We could use some time to sit back and
where we are right now," said one Israeli official.
The U.S. itself is sending mixed signals over whether it may be willing
interact with a unity government led by Hamas. Ms. Rice said the U.S.
wouldn't take a position on this question until the new government is
formed, but U.S. officials in Israel have told the Palestinians that
U.S. would shun the government if it doesn't embrace Israel, renounce
violence and agree to abide by previous international peace accords.
Ms. Rice's strategy in the past year has been to embolden Mr. Abbas and
secular Fatah movement, politically and militarily, believing that
force Hamas to yield to better terms for a unity government. Street
raged between Fatah and Hamas, claiming scores of lives from within the
leadership ranks of the warring factions and among Palestinian
That strategy has apparently failed, as the deal brokered by Saudi
Mecca last week would seem to require Mr. Abbas and the other
moderates to move closer to the Islamists -- not vice versa.
The Saudi deal, if it holds, also has thrown into question a core
underlying the U.S.'s regional strategy over recent months. Ms. Rice
portrayed the moment as ripe for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian
front largely because Sunni Arab states like Saudi Arabia appeared
help broker a deal. The U.S. logic was that Iran, and its aid to
groups like Hamas, had become a greater threat to many Arab states than
The Saudis, by summoning both Hamas and Fatah to Mecca last week and
offering them $1 billion in aid, have made clear that their main desire
to preserve intra-Palestinian comity while weaning Hamas away from
Ms. Rice yesterday said she approved of the Saudi effort to stop the
fighting. "We want calm between the Palestinians as well," she said.
The U.S. finds itself in a delicate place, facing the possibility it
could be leading the opposition against a unity government that the
helped put together. Arab states are eager to see the Palestinians end
internecine fighting. If Ms. Rice comes out strongly against the new
government, she could create an even-greater backlash against the U.S.
across the region and beyond. The U.S. and Israel would largely be
they tried hard to scuttle it.
After her talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials, Ms. Rice is
scheduled to meet with an assortment of Arab ministers in Jordan before
flying Tuesday to Berlin. Talks there, with representatives from the
European Union, Russia and the United Nations, will be just as crucial,
because the U.S. may have to push hard to keep in place the current
international freeze on aid to the Palestinians if a new unity