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Will Carter be successful in reaching a second Makkah Agreement?

The latest news regarding Jimmy Carter’s tour of the Middle East is his meeting with Russian president and the latter’s willingness to host the Palestinian dialogue. He also met with the Saudi monarch, who is willing to host a meeting between Palestinian President Abu Mazen and head of Hamas Khaled Meshaal if there is a chance it will succeed. Carter told King Salman that Meshaal is willing to make the meeting work on the condition that the proposed meeting is preceded by a factional meeting that discusses the details of implementing the Cairo agreement based on the “Prisoners’ Document”.

It is noteworthy that Carter’s tour did not include a visit to Egypt and a meeting with President Al-Sisi, despite the fact that Carter said that the goals of his tour are to work on lifting the blockade on Gaza, reconstruction in the Strip, achieving Palestinian reconciliation and pushing forward the efforts to rescue the two-state solution – none of which can be realistically done without Egypt’s involvement. This exclusion is due to the fact that the situation in Egypt requires it to focus on domestic matters, but Egypt did welcome Carter’s initiative and expressed hope for its success.

Abu Mazen told Carter that there is no need for new dialogue and agreement, and that both Palestinian factions need instead to implement the agreements that have already been reached one step at a time, but at an accelerated pace. He also noted that it was important to hold presidential and legislative elections and to form a government that will address all issues. Abu Mazen also said he will issue a presidential decree to hold elections immediately after he receives written approval from Hamas. He will also call on the Palestinian Legislative Council to convene in order to approve the election law based on which the elections will be held.

Abu Mazen also called on the temporary leadership to convene at any location they agree upon, even if in Ramallah, with the presence of those Hamas members able to attend in person – for those who cannot, a video conference call will be made. He also stressed that the reconstruction of Gaza will not be linked to the success of reconciliation, rather to the stationing of the police and presidential guards on the borders and crossings – a condition imposed by the international community and aid donors.

According to statements issued by the movement, Hamas agrees to holding elections but it still has not agreed to sign a written document consenting to this. However, they insist on their employees being present at the crossings and no longer stipulate that the presidential and legislative elections must coincide with the National Assembly elections.

This all suggests that there may be potential leeway in the reconciliation portfolio, despite the fact that the data continue to indicate that we still have not left the cycles of manoeuvres and conditions. This is cited by the fact that the holding of a leadership meeting is linked to Hamas’s written consent to holding elections, using it as a means to exclude Hamas and exercise unilateral control. This is only, of course, if Israel agrees to hold elections without imposing conditions that are difficult for the Palestinians to accept. Holding elections without national reconciliation and consensus – in light of the occupation, the current situation and previous experience – is a recipe for deepening the divide and turning it into a separation.

The most than can come out of the Carter initiative in light of the fact that the Palestinian parties have not achieved unity is that a leadership meeting may be held in Makkah or elsewhere. This is a positive and necessary matter, but on its own, it will not do much or achieve anything worthwhile. The reasons for the failure of the first Makkah Agreement and its decline three months after the national unity government, and the failure of all the agreements that were made, are all still present and they have become hindrances and obstacles that have worsened after the division became deeper.

In order to jog our collective memory, I will remind you that the most prominent obstacle hindering the end of the division until now is the paralysis of the PLO and its failing to re-establish its institutions, thus allowing it to consist of various parties and their individual priorities. Instead, they continue to rely on the variables, developments, and on foreign parties (either countries, such as Israel and the US, or other partiers, such as the Muslim Brotherhood). They also continue to believe in the delusion of potentially reaching an agreement with Israel, while the PA continues to self-govern in the West Bank without any actual authority. They also believe that they can establish a state with temporary borders in Gaza. Another hindrance is the absence of political consenseus, and the formation of common denominators for the reconciliation agreements and basis for partnership. There are also efforts to monopolise power and exclude the other party on both sides, and a lack of a strong and effective third party armed with popular movement able to impose the will of the people on the two sides of the divide in order to create the required balance and win the battle for authority.

There is another obstacle represented in Abu Mazen’s fear of a Saudi-Brotherhood-Hamas alliance, as Hamas is concerned with repairing its relationship with Saudi Arabia in a manner allowing it to continue not to respond to Abu Mazen’s terms for reconciliation. These terms basically aim to strip Hamas of almost everything it has in exchange for recognition as a party that has no ability to affect the Palestinian decision.

The most important issue in this entire matter is the change in Saudi Arabia’s position since the failure of the Makkah Agreement regarding its involvement in the reconciliation portfolio and its holding Hamas responsible for the failure – leading to an estrangement between Riyadh and Hamas that later developed into hostility between the late Saudi king and the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia considered it part of the Turkish-Qatari Alliance, and then the ISIS alliance, considered by Riyadh as the second greatest threat to its regional power after Iran.

Following the death of King Abdullah and the crowning of King Salman, there was an important shift in Saudi policy, as the perceived threat from Iran became the main foreign policy focus. This resulted in Operation Decisive Storm, decided by Riyadh before the Arab summit; hence, putting the summit on the spot, forcing it to provide a cover for it despite the fact that Saudi Arabia made the decision unilaterally. In addition to this, King Salman left Sharm El-Sheikh after he finished his speech and took the Yemeni president with him, even though the summit was supposedly held for the sake of Yemen and therefore the president should remain until the end. However, the Yemeni president is “an ordered slave” who cannot contradict the message Salman was sending by leaving after his speech and after the summit approved his decision.

The change in the Saudi policy was made based on Obama’s advice to Salman during his visit to pay his respects after the death of King Abdullah to be more open to the Muslim Brotherhood. This led to his reconsideration of the Saudi position on the Turkish-Qatari-Brotherhood alliance, as there are more and more indicators of Saudi Arabia joining the alliance. This is reinforced by the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood in general, and particularly its branch in Yemen, sided with Saudi Arabia in Operation Decisive Storm and are fighting against the Syrian regime, which is the same position as Ankara, Riyadh and Doha. Hamas also supported the legitimacy in Yemen and publically called for Saudi Arabia to play a role in the Palestinian reconciliation.

The question remains as to what the Egyptian position will be, especially if the new Saudi position leads to calling for reconciliation between Al-Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood. If the matter is limited to Saudi Arabia being involved in the Palestinian reconciliation, then Egypt will be able to handle this, especially since the discussion will be on implementing the reconciliation agreement sponsored by Egypt and Egypt remains in control of this. Cairo will be happy if Saudi Arabia is able to convince Hamas to allow the PA to control the crossings and borders, which will ensure Egypt’s security by closing the sources of threat posed by the cooperation of “jihadist takfirist” organisations in Sinai and Gaza, either with direct assistance from Hamas or indirectly by turning a blind eye to their activities.

In this context, there are predictions that I can neither completely agree with nor can completely disregard. These include the prediction that the Saudi-Egyptian honeymoon period is almost finished because Cairo does not share Riyadh’s belief that Iran is the only or main threat, and because Egypt has a different approach to dealing with Iran and Syria, in which it gives priority to fighting terrorism and confronting the Turkish- Qatari- Muslim Brotherhood alliance. If this happens, then it will negatively affect any Saudi effort to achieve Palestinian reconciliation.

Carter’s efforts may meet with Arab, regional, and international efforts seeking to achieve reconciliation in conjunction with a long-term truce with Israel that will, at the very least, prevent the eruption of the Palestinian situation in a region inflamed with all sorts of explosions. These efforts also seek to at the very least create an atmosphere conducive to reviving the two-state solution that is currently gasping for its final breaths. There are international efforts from various sources trying to rescue the two-state solution before it dies and opens the region’s doors to the unknown.

Translated from Arab48 on 5 May 2015.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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