Home Staff Courses Documents Links Contact


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya)

Palestinian movements Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement), and Fatah (Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine) have agreed in Mecca to form a national unity government.
Moreover, the Hamas leaders promised to respect the commitments of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and the Arab League’s resolutions. These documents deal with the recognition of Israel by the Palestinians, and Arabs as a whole.
In 1993, the PLO acknowledged Israel’s right to exist, and this led to a number of Palestinian-Israeli agreements. At its summit in Beirut, the Arab League adopted a peace proposal, where the Saudis expressed Arab readiness to recognize Israel and sign a peace treaty with it if the Israelis freed the territories they occupied after 1967.
At first sight, the Mecca agreements may seem to be a breakthrough in Middle East settlement. Until then, Hamas refused to officially acknowledge the Palestinian-Israeli agreements. But this is a wrong impression.
Respecting these commitments and treating them as binding are totally different things. Palestinian Foreign Minister, and spokesman for Hamas Mahmoud al-Zahar, who leaves his position under the said agreements, did not fail to make this observation. There was no breakthrough, and it was not likely to be achieved. However, the sides could build a strategy of regional cooperation on the basis of what they have achieved. Very much depends on the Palestinians themselves, the Quartet of go-betweens (Russia, the U.S., the EU, and the UN), Israel, and other regional players. But Saudi Arabia is allotted the key role – the Palestinian talks took place under its aegis, and on its territory.
The Saudis have demonstrated that they continue playing the first fiddle in the Arab and Muslim world. This is the main result of the Mecca forum, and this is what they planned to achieve. Now the Saudi priority is to make sure that these accords are observed and further developed. This is their direct responsibility. Not only the Palestinian destiny is at stake, but also the fate of Arab-Israeli relations – what trends will prevail in the Muslim world in the near future, and what forces will lead it forward.
The media has recently written much about Riyadh and Tehran fighting for influence in the Muslim world, and about the latter’s growing role in the Middle East (stretching from North Africa to Afghanistan).
In an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Seyassah in late January, Saudi King Abdullah Ibn Abdel Aziz Al Saud declared that the Palestinian issue was the Arab prerogative: We do not want any country to use our business in its interests and become stronger, he said, hinting at Iran.
But the Saudis find it increasingly difficult to curb Iran’s growing influence on the world Islamic Umma. For many young Muslims all over the world, Iran is a flagman of resistance to the West, globalization, and the U.S. For this reason, the Saudis want to convince their brethren-in-faith that their model of international conduct is effective. It implies a balance between independence and cooperation with the West, a search for compromise rather than open confrontation. Success in resolving the Palestinian issue may be a perfect example in this respect.
Saying that the Palestinian issue is an Arab prerogative, the Saudi King was not very precise. Since the foundation of the monarchy, Saudi kings have emphasized Mecca and Medina’s religious bonds with the third Muslim shrine – Jerusalem. They have claimed the leading role in resolving the Palestinian problem for religious rather than ethnic reasons.
All Muslim summits and conferences talk about Palestine. It unites Muslims all over the world – in Russia, the Arab world, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia… The leaders of many states with a predominantly Muslim population have exploited this issue to win points in the world arena and consolidate society at home. This has always been the case.
In January, the leaders of non-Arab Muslim nations – Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia paid special attention to the Palestinian problem in their foreign policies. Among other things, they tried to unite the Islamic Umma. Riyadh did not fail to notice these efforts. It is against the emergence of new centers of power in the Muslim world, and wants at least to control this process if it is unable to stop it altogether.
It is no accident that in the next few months, Saudi Arabia will play host to a regular Arab League summit and a foreign minister conference with the participation of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Palestine is most likely to be in the center of attention. We will live and see whether the Mecca Palestinian accords will find their positive development in the run-up to these forums.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board. –0-