As I write this from Cairo at 11:30 a.m. Monday local time, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The first thing to note is that all three of these officials represent political trends that are currently extremely weak within their respective countries.
So in this summit of three weak reeds, can any of the three expect to gain any strength from the support that the other two may– or may not– be able to offer them?
Of these three political trends, Mahmoud Abbas’s is currently (at his domestic level) the least weak. This might seem paradoxical. But his Fateh movement is the only one of these three three trends that has actively engaged with its domestic critics and done the hard work of reaching an agreement for internal entente; he did that through the Mecca Agreement that he concluded with Hamas last week.
By contrast, the administration that Rice represents has done almost nothing to try to reach a workable entente with the domestic critics whose rising power and new willingness to challenge the administration havey been much in evidence in the past two months. And as for Olmert, his complex governing coalition is limping along with little direction, plagued by internal problems and having still failed to recover any of the sense of direction it lost when its main original project– the pursuit of unilateralist “convergence” in the West Bank– was rendered irrelevant by the Hizbullah victory of last summer. (For details of which, see here.)
Though Abu Mazen is currently domestically stronger than the other two summiteers, his ability to give support to the other two weak reeds there is, of course, severely constrained by the terms of that same Mecca Agreement which represented, essentially, his conceding to the reality that Hamas is noticeably stronger and better organized in Palestinian society than is Fateh.
The Mecca Agreement represented a significant set-back to the US-Israeli plan to weaken or break Hamas’s power by using Fateh against it. (Just as, in Iraq at the end of December, the US plan to weaken or break Moqtada Sadr’s power by using SCIRI and other Iraqi Shiite forces against it was also blocked by the indigenous political forces there.)