Thursday, February 22, 2007

Yes, Why?

The New York Times asks:-

So why did Saudi Arabia broker a power-sharing agreement between Hamas and the moderate Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah faction at the same time that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had decided to try to revive peace talks?

And offers an answer:-

One reason, no doubt, is that Saudi Arabia — as a leader in the Arab world — wanted to help end the Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence by Hamas and Fatah. But another big reason, analysts said, is that the war in Iraq has intensified the split between Sunnis and Shiites, and deepened a power struggle between the Sunni royal family of Saudi Arabia, and Iran, which is largely Shiite.

Although the United States is rooting for the Saudis in that power struggle, the two countries have some distinctly different ideas about how Saudi Arabia should fight for its leadership role in the region.

The Bush administration has a view that pits America, its Arab allies, Israel and Europe against Iran, Syria and groups, including Hamas, that the United States considers terrorists.

While that alignment may work for the Bush administration, it is not necessarily how America’s Sunni Arab allies view the world. In the battle for influence in the Middle East, Hamas is a prize Saudi Arabia is willing to fight for.

Put simply, in the past year, Iran has been wooing Hamas, which is Sunni. The Saudis did not like that. So they fought to get Hamas back.

“The Saudis did a switcheroo,” said Martin Indyk, the United States ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration. “The U.S. views the Middle East as a battle between the moderates against the Iranian-led extremists. But our regional allies see this as a divide between Sunnis and Shiites, and Sunni extremists like Hamas may be extremists, but they are Sunnis first.”

“The Saudis,” he said, “don’t want Hamas on the Shia side, on the Iranian side.”

But ends up with:-

The pact put an end, at least temporarily, to the bloodletting. It also put an end, at least temporarily, to Ms. Rice’s attempt to restart peace talks. Ms. Rice flew to Jerusalem for the scheduled meeting anyway, which began on Monday morning with a stilted three-way handshake between Mr. Abbas and Mr. Olmert at Ms. Rice’s hotel, with Ms. Rice standing in the middle. After about an hour of discussions about the Mecca accord, Ms. Rice tried to move the discussion to the peace agenda.

“Let’s go upstairs and talk about your future,” she said, according to a senior Bush administration official. The three went up to her 10th-floor suite, overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City, where she broached what she has termed the “political horizon” — diplomatic speak for the contours of an eventual Palestinian state.

“She pushed for it in the meeting, but Olmert was adamant about not going for it,” said a Palestinian official familiar with the talks.

The reason: the Saudi-brokered Mecca accord. In the end, the Israelis said they refused to open peace negotiations with a unity government that includes Hamas.

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