Last week, readers of the British Guardian received some good news regarding the Middle East: “The Mecca agreement gives the west the chance to break with its policy of blackmail and recognize Palestinian rights.” The bearer of these happy tidings was none other than Hamas’ very own Khaled Mashaal.
No doubt, Mashaal has his finger on the pulse of Europe’s predicament. As one of the members of the Quartet, Europe - together with the US, Russia and the UN - has signed the demand that Hamas must recognize Israel, accept previous agreements and renounce violence before direct aid to the Palestinian government will be resumed.
It’s not that the Palestinians have been subjected to any cut in aid - quite the contrary: As the United Nations under-secretary general for political affairs reported on the recent anniversary of Hamas' election victory, international aid to the Palestinians increased in 2006 by nearly 10 percent, amounting to a staggering $1.2 billion. Indeed, Palestinians are today the largest per capita recipients of foreign aid in the world.
But that is not enough to soothe the conscience of those who feel that it is unfair to “punish” the Palestinians for electing a party whose charter asserts that there “is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad” and that peace negotiations are just “a waste of time, an exercise in futility (…), a vain game.” (Hamas Charter, Article Thirteen). For a variety of reasons - racism possibly among them - many Europeans feel that, while Israelis are to blame if they vote for a government that proposed to withdraw from most of the West Bank, the Palestinian electorate should not be held responsible for voting into power a party that glorifies “jihad” in order to “liberate” all of historic Palestine.
So Khaled Mashaal had a point when he stated in the Guardian: “We know that many governments around the world are unhappy with these sanctions and want to see an end to them.” To anybody who might fail to see any reason to be “unhappy” about the “sanctions”, Mashaal offered some hints: He called on the West “to wake up and realize” that “(it) will not serve the best interests of the West to support Israel while it continues to terrorize our people, occupy our land, violate our basic human and national rights and encroach on Muslim and Christian holy places. Such blind support has proven to be very costly for the West and will increasingly damage its vital interests.”
While Mashaal’s article appeared under the title “Our unity can now pave the way for peace and justice”, he made sure to point out that Palestinian unity could also pave the way for something else altogether: If the West persisted in its “blind support” for Israel, it would “risk alienating not only Hamas but also Fatah and all the other Palestinian factions”, resulting in dire consequences, because then “the entire Middle East region would be driven towards another cycle of bloody escalation that may last for many years to come.”
Mashaal had all the reasons to present Palestinian demands and threats with the utmost confidence. He knows all too well that in Europe, quite a few people would rather join a demonstration shouting “We are all Hizbullah” than be accused of “blind support” for Israel. Moreover, a Europe that has to contend with Islamic extremists in its midst has become quite receptive to the “linkage” theory that blames Muslim radicalization on the unsolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which, in turn, is often blamed on Israeli intransigence, made possible by US support.
Most importantly, however, Mashaal could be so confident because the Mecca agreement means that the Saudis are willing to back Hamas, and in the “new” Middle East, the Saudis are counted among the “moderates” whom nobody wants to alienate.
It was thus no big surprise to read in the International Herald Tribune that “Mecca opens the way for Europe” - though it is perhaps a bit surprising that articles on the Mecca agreement tend to come with titles that invoke “paving” or “opening” ways... In any case, this article was authored by Henry Siegman, who is currently a visiting professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and has a well deserved reputation as a critic of Israel and an advocate for the Palestinian cause.
Siegman did nothing to tarnish his reputation when he described the Mecca agreement as a major achievement “for which Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah deserves great credit.” He admonished the Europeans that “(in) the aftermath of Saudi Arabia’s breaking of the taboo against support of a government that includes Hamas, it should not require all that much courage to follow in King Abdullah’s footsteps.” For those who would muster the courage to do just that, Siegman had a “roadmap” ready: “The Europeans should announce immediately the end of their boycott of Hamas and open a dialogue with a new unity government on conditions that would enable them to end sanctions imposed by the Quartet on the Palestinian Authority.
These conditions should recognize that Hamas should not be asked to do that which the international community is not prepared to ask of Israel. Hamas should be asked to declare its willingness to recognize Israel if and when Israel declares its recognition of Palestinian rights within the pre-1967 border.”
Siegman suggested ever so tactfully that a Hamas government backed by Saudi money would be “less dependent” on any Euros, but he still flattered the Europeans that their economic assistance “remains a powerful inducement for Palestinian diplomacy”. Whether this was meant as a stick or a carrot is hard to figure out, but in any case, Siegman clearly believed that the Mecca agreement offered Europe a chance to finally “disengage from its subservience to Washington (…) and undertake a constructive initiative of its own.”
Perhaps it should be noted that “constructive” seems to have taken on a whole new meaning: apparently, it now means to court those who stick with their calls for “jihad”, glorify terrorism and mock negotiations as “a waste of time”. It may seem a rather peculiar interpretation of “constructive”, but when you think about it, Europe’s negotiations with Iran were actually similarly “constructive”. So, we’d better learn fast and familiarize ourselves with the roadmap made in Mecca.