After Mecca: Engaging Hamas

Israeli bulldozers carry out controversial work on a pathway next to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, in the Old City of Jerusalem, 6 February 2007. (MaanImages/Magnus Johansson)

AMMAN/JERUSALEM/BRUSSELS — A Palestinian national unity government provides the international community with an important opportunity for a much-needed change in policy towards the Palestinians. Failure to do so risks provoking greater internal Palestinian strife as well as Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After Mecca: Engaging Hamas, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the Saudi-brokered Mecca Agreement between rival Palestinian organisations Hamas and Fatah. Providing a detailed examination of the agreement and an analysis of Hamas based on extensive discussions with the Palestinian Islamist movement and others, it concludes there are significant challenges but also the chance of a fresh start: for the Palestinians to restore law and order and negotiate genuine power-sharing arrangements; for Israelis and Palestinians to establish a comprehensive cessation of hostilities; and for the international community to focus on a credible peace process.

“A year of pressure and sanctions has extracted little from Hamas”, says Mouin Rabbani, Crisis Group Senior Analyst. “The Quartet - the U.S., EU, Russia and UN - needs to adopt a pragmatic approach that judges a new government by its conduct and seeks to influence its deeds, not its members’ ideology. The alternatives are either illusory or worse”.

The past year has been fruitless for all sides. Hamas has failed to govern, Fatah has failed to rule, and their escalating conflict has been fuelled by the combination of international sanctions and foreign promotion of their power-struggle. While the EU pumped more money into the occupied territories more ineffectively and less transparently, Western commitment to democracy in the Middle East has been roundly discredited, and diplomacy has been virtually non-existent. By almost every standard - governance, security, economics, institution-building and the peace process - there has been only regression.

Without a Hamas-Fatah power-sharing arrangement and as long as the Islamists remain marginalised and unable to govern, there can be no sustainable diplomacy. Hamas and Fatah should demilitarise their political rivalry and negotiate sustainable power-sharing arrangements open to all Palestinian political organisations. The PA government and presidency should cooperate to negotiate a speedy prisoner exchange and comprehensive cessation of hostilities with Israel.

The EU and its Member States should engage the new Palestinian government and Hamas with the goal of ensuring the Islamists’ conduct is compatible with the objective of a two-state settlement rather than that of ousting it from power. The members of the Quartet and Israel should refrain from undermining either the Mecca Agreement or attempts at engagement by other parties.

“If the international community is serious about its proclaimed goals, it will help stabilise inter-Palestinian relations, broker a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire, permit the unity government to govern and press for meaningful negotiations between Abbas and Olmert,” says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East Program Director. “It will see Mecca as an opportunity to revive the peace process, rather than as yet another excuse to bury it”.

To download the full report click here.

Related Links

  • Executive Summary and Conclusions of the ICG report
  • Mecca Accord for Palestinian national unity government (8 February 2007)
  • BY TOPIC: Civil War in Palestine?