All at once everyone is talking about Saudi Arabia as the new Israeli-Palestinian peacemaker. What the United States could not do, what Europe could not do, what the Quartet could not do, the Saudis, we are being told, having just brokered an agreement between Fatah and Hamas, are the ones to do.
To take one of the many commentators in whose thinking this idea has crystallized, here is David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writing in an op-ed in the February 13 International Herald Tribune:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading for the Middle East next week to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a new effort to pursue peace through informal negotiations. . . . If there is one hope for the Rice idea, it is in Saudi Arabia. . . . The fact that the Palestinian talks between Abbas and Hamas during the last few days took place in Saudi Arabia demonstrates that Riyadh now recognizes that it cannot continue to stand aside, that diplomacy must be energized [in order to meet] Arab concern over the ascendance of Iran and other Islamist radicals in the region.
But with all due respect to the Saudis, all that the (in all likelihood very temporary) “success” of the Fatah-Hamas talks in Mecca demonstrates is how limited the Saudis’ ability to affect Palestinian attitudes toward Israel is. If after first banging Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh’s heads together and then parading them in décollete around the Kaaba, all they could get out of the two was Abbas’s accession to Haniyeh’s agreement to “honor” past PLO-Israel agreements while continuing to declare that Hamas would never recognize Israel (some way of “honoring” the Oslo Declaration of Principles!)—well, David Makovsky and all the others may as well forget it.
What Yasser Arafat was not willing to put his name to at Camp David and Taba in 2000 without Hamas—i.e., the most concessionary of all possible Israeli positions—Mahmoud Abbas will not by any stretch of the imagination put his name to now that the Saudis have yoked him to Hamas. And should he ever seek to unyoke himself, he will be a wagon without a horse. Whistling in the dark is never very effective, but this whistle doesn’t even carry the tune of peace.