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The Mecca Agreement – A Strategic PLO-Hamas Alliance for Establishing a Palestinian State Without Hamas Recognizing Israel
By: C. Jacob and Y. Carmon

MEMRI
February 28, 2007 - No. 331
http://memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=IA33107

Mahmoud Abbas:
"The organizations participating
in the new government
will not be obligated to the positions
of the government...
[only] the ministers will be obligated." [1]

Background

The text of the Mecca agreement, which was signed under Saudi auspices on February 8, 2007, is couched in general terms and deals mainly with intra-Palestinian relations. The policy section of the agreement appears in the letter of appointment for the future Palestinian government, and is part of the agreement.

The Mecca agreement reflects a strategic alliance between the PLO and Hamas in a number of areas: the Palestinian government, the makeup of the PLO, and the conflict with Israel.

With regard to the Palestinian Authority, the agreement resolves the current crisis between Fatah and Hamas, in that it puts an end to the violent clashes between the two organizations that caused the serious damage, and provides a response to popular pressure to form a national unity government, in the hope that doing so will bring about the removal of the West's economic and diplomatic boycott of the current Palestinian government.

With regard to the makeup of the PLO, the agreement advances the process of Hamas's participation in the PLO. This participation has long been demanded by Hamas, and rejected and delayed by the PLO.

In the diplomatic sphere, the agreement authorizes the PLO to conduct negotiations with Israel on the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with the consent of Hamas. To this end, Hamas would, in theory, have to recognize Israel, abandon terrorism, recognize prior agreements, and put forward a goal acceptable to the international community - i.e. a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Hamas has generally accepted the last three conditions, but has not agreed to recognize Israel.

Nonetheless, it should be noted that:

a) While Hamas has in practice refrained from carrying out terror attacks in Israel for the last two years, under the unilateral tahdi'a (security "calm"), this tahdi'a is not included as a provision of the agreement, nor is it mentioned in it.

b) Even though Hamas consented to negotiations on the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders (through its acceptance of the Saudi peace plan), it continues to demand the right of return of Palestinian refugees to within the 1967 borders of Israel. [2]

Following the signing of the agreement, Mahmoud Abbas explained the joint PLO-Hamas tactic for jumpstarting the peace process (which he had in the past proposed to Hamas, and which Hamas has only now accepted): Hamas will not be required to recognize Israel, since, as a Palestinian movement, and even as a government, it is not authorized to conduct diplomatic negotiations, as negotiations and the signing of treaties in the name of the Palestinian people are the exclusive prerogative of the PLO and its head, Mahmoud Abbas.

This tactic allows Abbas to conduct negotiations as the representative of the Palestinian people, and it enables him to ask Israel and the international community to overlook the fact that Hamas, which is part of the PA government, has not changed its principles and does not recognize Israel.

It should be pointed out that there is a fundamental difference between the two parts of the Mecca agreement, that is, the principle part and the letter of appointment. The principle part, which deals with intra-Palestinian relations, includes an explicit commitment to the agreement by both sides. In contrast, in the letter of appointment for the future government, which deals with relations with Israel, there is no direct and explicit acceptance by Hamas. Instead, Abbas, as the president of the PA, calls on Haniya, as the prime minister of the PA, to act in accordance with the decisions of the Palestinian National Council, the provisions of the Basic Law, the National Accord document (which is a watered-down version of the "prisoners' document"), the resolutions adopted at Arab League summits, U.N. resolutions, the consensus of the Arab states, [3] and prior agreements signed by the PLO. Hamas's agreement to these provisions is expressed indirectly, in that negotiations were held between the two sides on the language of the letter of appointment, and Hamas agreed to it.

Abbas declared that the organizations participating in the future national unity government will not be obligated to the government's position; only the ministers will be obligated to these positions.

In return for acceptance of this tactic, Hamas was granted political support and sponsorship from the PLO, as a government and as a future partner in the PLO.

With the Mecca agreement, the Quartet's demands have been only partially met, and it is likely that Abbas and Hamas believe that the Quartet's position will soften in the future and that it will settle for this partial acceptance.

Both Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Mash'al are trying to keep their followers from making statements to the media that could reveal the nature and the details of the agreement between them.

The Agreement

The following is the translation of the agreement and of the letter of appointment:

"Based on the noble initiative of the Custodian of the Holy Places, King Abdallah bin Abd Al-'Aziz, king of the Saudi Arab Kingdom, and under the auspices of His Highness, a dialogue was held in the holy [city of] Mecca between the two movements Fatah and Hamas, during February 6 through 8, 2007, [in order to arrive at] a Palestinian agreement. The dialogue was crowned with success, with the help of Allah, may he be praised and exalted, and the following agreement was achieved:

a) Palestinian blood is sacred and all means should be used and all arrangements should be made in order to prevent bloodshed. National unity is important as a basis for steadfastness on the national level, for rising up against the occupation, for actualizing the national and legitimate goals of the Palestinian people, and for adopting the language of negotiation as the only foundation for solving the political disagreements in the Palestinian arena. In this framework, we give many thanks to our brothers in Egypt and to the Egyptian security delegation in Gaza, who invested great efforts in calming the situation in the [Gaza] Strip in the recent period.

b) A final agreement was reached to establish a Palestinian national unity government in accordance with a detailed and ratified agreement between the sides, [and it was also agreed] to launch rapid action to take the constitutional steps for establishing it [i.e. the national unity government].

c) Steps forward should continue to be taken for [re]activating the PLO, for its development, and for reform within it. [Likewise,] the activity of the preparatory committee based on the Cairo and Damascus understandings should be speeded up. The detailed steps [to be taken] in this matter are set out in detail.

d) Emphasis was placed on the principle of political partnership based on Palestinian Authority laws and based on political pluralism, in accordance with the agreement ratified between the sides. We bring the agreement to the Palestinian public, and to the peoples of the Arab Islamic nation, and to all [our] friends in the world. We are committed to the spirit and to the letter [of the agreement], so that we can now turn to attaining our national goals, to freeing ourselves from the occupation, to restoring our rights, and to tackling the main issues, which are first and foremost Jerusalem, the refugees, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the prisoners, and dealing with the fence and the settlements."

The Letter of Appointment

"To Mr. Isma'il Abd Al-Salam Haniya

"As chairman of the executive committee of the PLO and president of the Palestinian Authority, after examining the basic Law and based on my authority:

a) I appoint you to establish the next Palestinian government within the time frame set out in the Basic Law.

b) After the government is put together and presented before me, it will be presented to the Legislative Council for a vote of confidence.

c) I call upon you, as prime minister of the next government, to be committed to the interests of the Palestinian people, to defend its rights and its achievements and to develop them, and also to act to actualize its national aims as confirmed by the decisions of the Palestinian National Council conferences, by the articles of the Basic Law, by the National Accord document [a watered-down version of the 'prisoners' document'], and by the decisions of the Arab summits. On this basis, I call upon you to honor the U.N. resolutions, the decisions of Arab legitimacy [see endnote no. 3], and the agreements signed by the PLO." [4]

The Change in the Positions of the PLO/Fatah

The Mecca agreement reflects a change in the positions of the PLO/Fatah. President Abbas relinquished his demand that Hamas "be committed to the agreements" signed by the PLO, settling for the term "honor the agreements." As will be recalled, this issue was a bone of contention between the sides. [5]

Hani Al-Masri, senior Palestinian Information Ministry official and columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, wrote: "Fatah agreed to the wording [demanded by Hamas]... that states that the agreements of the PLO, the decisions of the Arab summits, and the U.N. decisions must be 'honored.' This wording is less strong than [saying] 'commitment' to the agreements and the decisions."

Al-Masri further noted that the PLO/Fatah had agreed "to begin taking steps aimed at reforming, rebuilding, and [re]activating the PLO, so that it will include the factions outside it" [6] - a Hamas demand that had been delayed by the PLO for a long time.

An additional PLO/Fatah concession is its very agreement to forming a political partnership with Hamas. In an interview with the Palestinian Media Center, which is identified with Hamas, Hamas deputy political bureau head Moussa Abu Marzouq said: "From the first day [of the Hamas victory in the Legislative Council elections], Fatah members said that their movement would not accept the election results... The actual change in Fatah's position is its agreement to political partnership with Hamas in making Palestinian decisions." [7]

PLO/Fatah's Explanation of the Change in Its Positions

A. Attempts to Prevent Exposure of the Nature and Details of the Agreement

President Abbas's first step after the agreement was reached was to attempt to prevent PLO/Fatah officials from making statements to the media about the agreement and its details. A special memorandum to Fatah officials and to the Palestinian diplomatic delegations after the signing of the Mecca agreement said:

"The exaggerated and subjective interpretations of the agreement or of one of its sections could change its basic aim. There is no need to elaborate in interpretation or commentary, since the agreement is about putting together a national unity government according to an agreed-upon and well-considered formula... Neither side has conceded to the other on political content or in the area of putting together the government... We will launch an extensive political campaign to remove the siege on our people and on our government..." [8]

Also PLO Executive Committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo, who is close to President Abbas, emphasized the need for reticence: "If we act wisely, and Hamas speaks a new language as promised by Khaled Mash'al, if the new government plays its complementary role and helps Abu Mazen [Abbas] in his role, and if there is a halt to useless statements that are mere repetitions of slogans, such as [Prime Minister Haniya's political advisor] Ahmad Yousef's recent statements that the Mecca agreement does not include a commitment to recognize Israel, then [the Mecca agreement] will have a good chance of removing the siege from the Palestinian people." [9]

Ashraf Al-Ajrami, columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, was more explicit: "We must break the siege placed upon us that is causing injustice, and this demands a flexible political language that will maintain constructive ambiguity without the need for statements that aid Israel in its war against the Mecca agreement..." [10]

B. Hamas Has Changed, Drawing Closer to the Direction of the PLO's Political Plans; Thus the PLO's Concession is Justified

PLO spokesmen gave additional explanations for the concessions:

Fatah spokesman in Gaza Maher Miqdad, who was a member of the Mecca talks delegation, maintained that "political changes have begun in the Hamas members... Hamas's political view has begun to change, and it now stands in a different place than the one in which it stood a year ago [in early 2006]." [11]

Al-Ayyam columnist Abdallah Awwad argued that "although Hamas is saying that it had given away nothing that harmed its positions or its principles against recognizing the Hebrew state, its victory in the elections and its establishment of a government based on the Oslo Accords means that it is, willy-nilly, in the heart of the Oslo Accords - even if it hasn't come to terms with this. [Hamas] is currently in a state of internal struggle between its need to maintain [its] 'Oslo' government and its need to not change its political positions, and it is seeking a formula that will bridge the gap between these two needs. Thus, the Mecca agreement is a step forward, because in it Hamas agrees to honor the agreements signed by the PLO as well as the [Saudi] peace initiative and the U.N. resolutions." [12]

Hani Al-Masri gave an additional explanation as to why the PLO had changed its tack: Hamas, he said, conceded its exclusive control of the government, including the ministries with sovereignty, because under the Mecca agreement the treasury, foreign, and interior ministers will be politically independent. He added, "Hamas likewise changed its previous positions regarding the agreements that the PLO signed with Israel [and also changed its negative position regarding] the decisions of the Arab summits and the U.N. resolutions..." [13]

Azzam Al-Ahmad, head of the Fatah faction in the Legislative Council, who also participated in the Mecca talks, said, "Hamas has drawn very close to the direction of the PLO's political plans, and these plans do not constitute an obstacle in the Palestinian relations with the international community." [14]

In an interview with the London daily Al-Hayat, Al-Ahmad said that with the Mecca agreement, Hamas had in actuality recognized Israel: "[Although] the matter of recognition of Israel was not raised before Hamas, it is known that the PLO has exchanged documents of mutual recognition with the Israeli government, and the recognition of countries is not the affair of organizations and parties but of governments. Hamas need not declare its explicit and legal recognition of Israel, and Fatah also need not do this; no Palestinian faction needs to do it... Each faction and organization is entitled to retain its own special ideology and platform, but each must be committed to its national entity and its representatives (the PLO), and this is what was in the letter of appointment. The [letter of appointment] dictated that Hamas must be committed to the decisions of the Palestinian National Council - and this means commitment to agreements signed by the PLO, first and foremost among them the Oslo Accords and the two-state solution declared by the National Palestinian Council in 1988. The letter of appointment, which sets out commitment to the decisions of the Arab summits, means that Hamas is committed to the decisions of the Arab summit in Beirut that adopted the [2002 Saudi] Arab initiative." [15]

C. The Mecca Agreement Permits Political Maneuvering in the International Arena - It Was The Most That Could be Extracted From Hamas

Hafez Al-Barghouti, editor of the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, wrote: "The declared draft is practical and diplomatic. It gives the next foreign minister room for [diplomatic] maneuvering in acting in the international arena and enables the government to act in internal matters... It was not possible to demand more from this agreement, and even if the West rejects the phrasing of the agreement, according to which Hamas [only] 'honors [prior agreements made by the PLO],' it is no longer a Palestinian problem, but the West's [problem]." [16]

The Change in Hamas's Positions

In the Mecca agreement, Hamas has dropped its precondition to honor only those parts of prior agreements signed by the PLO that Hamas considers as serving the Palestinian interest, and now it has undertaken to honor these agreements in full. Furthermore, Hamas has also agreed to accept "the Arab legitimacy." This is a new term, which refers to the decisions of the Arab summits, including the 2002 Beirut summit at which the Saudi peace initiative was ratified. Up until now, Hamas had not agreed to accept this initiative.

Hamas's Explanation of the Change in Its Positions

Hamas spokesmen gave various explanations for the change in their positions:

A. Although Hamas Has Conceded in Various Areas, It Never Backed Down on Non-Recognition of Israel

Hamas spokesman Isma'il Radwan said: "The agreement with Fatah on the national unity government, which includes an undertaking to honor prior agreements signed by the PLO, does not mean recognizing Israel. The positions of the Hamas movement are permanent and known - no recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity... The government is not required to recognize Israel. The PLO recognized [it], but that is its own business. Hamas will join the PLO on the basis of new standards based on reshaping the PLO and non-recognition of the legitimacy of the occupation." [17]

At a rally at the Islamic University in Gaza, another Hamas spokesman, Mushir Al-Masri, depicted the Mecca agreement as a great victory for the Palestinian people. He declared: "Hamas remains steadfast in its principles, and has not retreated. Hamas will not recognize Israel, will not abandon the resistance, and will not relinquish its principles." [18]

Ahmad Yousef, political advisor to Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyya, said that even the platform of the future government "would not include the issue of recognition." [19]

In an interview, Moussa Abu Marzouq told the Hamas website that even on the organizational level, Hamas had not conceded: "Hamas took a step in order to agree on the distribution of the portfolios in the government, [but] ultimately this does not mean concession - because this was all done for the sake of our people and national unity. On the political level, Hamas showed great flexibility, but did not back down from the Palestinian principles." [20]

B. Violence in the Internal Arena Obliged Hamas to Reach an Agreement

Moussa Abu Marzouk stated that "it was not possible to go on in the reality that has prevailed recently in the Palestinian arena, in which disagreements had become violent. Moral and public pressure was created, as well as pressure connected to the entire Arab nation, and there was nothing to be done but to take steps that would lead to an agreement." [21]

C. Khaled Mash'al: Each Faction Will Retain Its Own Political Belief; The Agreement Expresses an Aspiration to Remove the Siege from the Palestinians

In an interview with the French news agency AFP, Hamas leader Khaled Mash'al said: "Hamas is committed to the government letter of appointment, which states that the agreements signed with Israel must be honored. Hamas is adopting a new political language. The Mecca agreement is a new political language [spoken by] Hamas, and honoring the agreements is [also] a new language, because there is a national need and we must speak a language appropriate to the time, and in the framework of an outlook that is shared by all factions. Nevertheless, each faction will retain its own political belief." [22]

D. PLC Member from Hamas: The Mecca Agreement is Like the Hudaybiyya Agreement - It Secures the Internal Front So We Can Address the Zionist Front

Younes Al-Astal, Palestinian Legislative Council member and columnist for the Hamas organ Al-Resala, called the Mecca agreement "Sulh Al-Hudaybiyya." [23] He wrote: "We are optimistic that the new Mecca agreement will be the key to many achievements, which will provide the internal security that is necessary to renew the siege on Khaybar [meaning Israel], and to subjugate the Zionists to the demands of the resistance..." [24]

E. Khaled Mash'al: The Agreement Gives an Opportunity for Significant Achievements - And When They Are Attained, It Will Be an Important Step on the Way to Achieving Peace In the Region

In an article in the London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Khaled Mash'al referred to the Mecca Aagreement as a "joint Palestinian view from which emanates a political plan for a unity government that emphasizes the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state in the areas occupied in 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital. Under this plan, all the prisoners will be released from the Israeli jails; all the settlements will be dismantled; and the right of return for the displaced refugees will be assured. When this view is given an opportunity to be translated into the language of reality, it will be an important step on the way to achieving peace in the region." [25]

*C. Jacob is a Research Fellow at MEMRI and Y. Carmon is the President of MEMRI.


[1] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), February 27, 2007.

[2] Article by Khaled Mash'al in Al-Quds Al-'Arabi (London), February 13, 2007. In addition, Hamas is demanding Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, the dismantling of all settlements, and the release of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

[3] This is a new term in Arabic, al-shar'iya al-'arabiyya, introduced here by Mahmoud Abbas, and patterned on the widely used "al-shar'iya al-duwaliyya" - "international legitimacy" - generally used to designate U.N. resolutions.

[4] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), February 9, 2007.

[5] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 322, "Alongside Its Islamist Ideology, Hamas Presents Pragmatic Positions," February 6, 2007, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=ia&ID=IA32207 .

[6] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), February 10, 2007.

[7] www.palestine-info.info , February 17, 2007.

[8] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Palestinian Authority, February 11, 2007.

[9] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 13, 2007.

[10] Al-Ayyam (PA), February 12, 2007.

[11] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), February 15, 2007.

[12] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), February 11, 2007.

[13] Al-Ayyam (PA), February 10, 2007.

[14] Al-Ayyam (PA), February 12, 2007.

[15] Al-Ayyam (PA), February 12, 2007.

[16] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), February 10, 2007.

[17] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), February 10, 2007.

[18] Al-Ayyam (PA), February 12, 2007.

[19] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), February 12, 2007.

[20] www.palestine-info.info , February 17, 2007.

[21] www.palestine-info.info , February 17, 2007.

[22] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), February 10, 2007. Hamas spokesman Isma'il Radwan put it even more clearly: "Hamas is one matter, and the unity government is another." (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), February 10, 2007)

[23] An agreement signed in 628 CE by the Prophet Muhammad with the Quraysh tribe, under which the sides committed to a time-limited ceasefire. As examples, see: MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 428, "Interview with Yasser Arafat," October 11, 2002, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP42802 ; MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 144, "The Domestic Palestinian Dispute Over the Hudna," July 25, 2003, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=ia&ID=IA14403.

[24] Al-Resala (Gaza), February 15, 2007.

[25] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 13, 2007.



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