The bad news is that once again we are like rabbits caught in the headlights of a car. The really embarrassing news is that we are stuck there along with the United States.
By the time the agreement between Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas was signed in Mecca on Thursday, the American Administration had been betrayed three times: Once by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, then by Saudi king Abdullah, and finally by Abbas. These three American allies ignored Condoleezza Rice's pleas; they negotiated with Khaled Mashaal and bent her will in his favor.
The agreement constitutes a severe blow to Rice's reputation in Washington. Despite the White House's warnings, she has been investing much effort in a bid to strengthen and glorify Abbas. Next Monday, on February 19th, she was set to have been rewarded for her efforts in a festive summit under her auspices. The summit between Ehud Olmert and Abbas would have served as a first step towards commencing talks between the two sides. The agreement signed in Mecca has emptied the summit of content.
Too much to swallow
Currently Rice is debating whether to hold the summit or cancel it. Via diplomatic channels, Abbas promised to wait with the establishment of the Palestinian national unity government until after the summit. From Rice's point of view this is a small consolation. Abbas is actually seeking to remain under US patronage as if the agreement he signed with Hamas does not exist, and to cooperate with Hamas as if America, the Quartet and Israel do not exist. Rice is finding this a bit too much to swallow.
Abbas and his associates did not go to Mecca by choice, but rather, out of fear. The violent clashes between Fatah forces and Hamas threatened to escalate into a full blown civil war. Abbas is not cut out for this type of conflict. He feared that anarchy would turn the Palestinian Authority into a Middle Eastern model of Somalia. And perhaps, as Israeli sources argued, he also feared for his own life. Either way, he preferred temporary calm with Hamas over a long-term treaty with the Americans. The Saudis and the Egyptians followed suit.
The US Administration believed it could cultivate a Sunni coalition that would span from North America to Lebanon and would stand up against Iran's Shiite megalomania. The Mecca agreement, signed last week, will force the Americans to rethink the situation. Perhaps those who are proposing that the Administration regard the Arab-Israeli conflict as a lost cause and focus their attention on other parts of the world are right. Perhaps they are right in proposing that Hamas' terrorist traits be ignored. Alternately, perhaps those proposing that the US Administration encourage talks between Israel and Syria are right.
Rice's humiliation doesn't make it any easier for Olmert. Abbas was his last political hope; this hope is now further away if not dissipated. All he can do is try and convince the world to continue shunning the Palestinian government. This vision would have been good for former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, but not for Ehud Olmert.
Olmert's table is empty; he is not initiating anything in the political arena, but rather, simply responds to the initiatives of others. In the social sphere he has made a few changes, but they have yet to be consolidated into a clear platform, a single draft, a statement that could enlist public support.
His fate and that of his cabinet are in the hands of others: The Winograd Commission, various investigators and the prosecution.
Any rabbit caught in the headlights of a car learns first-hand that the headlights are just the beginning. They are inevitably followed by the car's tires.