Pending the results of Mecca: last month, Saudi Arabia brokered a deal in Mecca aimed at bringing Palestine's opposing Fatah and Hamas factions together. Adel Darwish examines the prospects for the Occupied Territories and the kingdom's larger role in the region as a whole.

Author:Darwish, Adel

KING ABDULLAH OF Saudi Arabia has secured an agreement to end several weeks of violent clashes between Palestinian factions that claimed some 100 lives and earned them the wrath of Muslims worldwide. The move is the latest in a series of manoeuvres aimed at bringing a semblance of unity to the whole of the Middle East region.

It follows intensive talks in Mecca, where the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques wielded a mixture of carrot, stick and cheque-book diplomacy, not to mention the religious clout and moral clout of the location (within sight of Islam's holiest of shrines), to bang Palestinian heads together.

The fighting began last summer between Hamas and Fatah and several ceasefire agreements have failed to hold.

The 8 February deal, known as the 'Mecca Declaration', to form a national unity government (NUG) in Palestine, headed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, leader of the Hamas government since 2006, gave the Islamist Hamas nine cabinet posts, six to Fatah and one each to four other parties, but didn't include an explicit recognition of Israel. Some of the sensitive posts, including finance, foreign affairs and security were given to "independent" candidates. Much of the wrangling in Mecca was over two words: "respect" versus "accept", both in reference to interaction with the Jewish state. Rather than committing itself to accepting the existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements, Hamas insisted it would merely "respect" them.

The world asked whether the Mecca deal would end weeks of fighting in Gaza. Others wondered whether the agreement would persuade the Israelis to moderate their position and accept NUG as a 'partner for peace?'.

Insistence that such a partner didn't exist helped undermine the position of PA president, Mahmoud Abbas (a main architect of the 1993 Oslo Agreement), helping Hamas into office last January after Islamists convinced the electorate he was too weak to deal with Israel, not to mention the spiralling levels of corruption among PA officials.

The international peace makers, known as the Quartet--made up of Russia, the US, the European Union and the United Nations--have set demands for the Islamist movement to recognise Israel, renounce violence and formally accept existing peace agreements.

British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, called the agreement "interesting" and noted it would require "further study". But during her recent visit to Jerusalem, as the Mecca talks were underway, she told reporters it...

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