The most important piece to come out on this for my money is an op-ed in yesterday's Washington Post by Rob Malley and Aaron Miller entitled "West Bank First: It Won't Work." It's worth reading the whole thing, but here is the crux of their argument:
Having embraced one illusion -- that it could help isolate and defeat Hamas -- the Bush administration is dangerously close to embracing another: Gaza is dead, long live the West Bank.
... If Hamas is convinced that there is an effort to strangle its rule, it is likely to resume violence against Israel -- either directly or through one of many militant groups, Fatah offshoots included. There will be no shortage of militants angry at Fatah leaders' dealings with Israel or hungry for cash. If such violence occurs, hope for progress in the West Bank will come crashing down.
Since Hamas's election in early 2006, the United States and its allies have behaved as though isolating the Islamist movement could undo its victory and that supporting Fatah politically and militarily would hasten that outcome. The wreckage of that policy is clear. Yet, having witnessed the consequences of those myths, they are hastening to adopt others. Efforts to deepen the split between Hamas and Fatah or between Gaza and the West Bank will compound the disaster, for there can be no security, let alone a peace process, without minimal Palestinian unity and consensus.
We should not be fooled by Abbas's rhetoric. Sooner or later he will be forced to pursue new power-sharing arrangements between Hamas and Fatah and restore unity among Palestinians... [S]hould a national unity government be established, this time they should welcome the outcome and take steps to shore it up. Only then will efforts to broker credible political negotiations between Abbas and his Israeli counterpart on a two-state solution have a chance to succeed.
This echoes many of my arguments from Friday -- so no wonder I agreed with it! In particular, they draw the connection between Hamas-Fatah power-sharing and getting momentum back on negotiating a two-state solution -- something I did not emphasize enough in my Friday post.
At a Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) event Monday, Rob Malley expanded on this theme. I could not be there, but Guthrie Gray-Lobe -- who is the secret weapon of prospectsforpeace.com -- did attend. Guthrie explains that my New America Foundation colleague, Ghaith Al-Omari, was also promoting the deeper power-sharing idea -- with emphasis on strengthening Abbas and Fatah in advance of future negotiations with Hamas rather than as an alternative to those negotiations.
Lebanese Daily Star editor, Rami Khouri lambasts the "strengthen Fatah moderates" approach in unforgiving terms, describing the "moderation" that Abbas represents as having "little anchorage in reality anymore, and has little credibility with Arabs above all."
People have suggested to me that any idea of power-sharing now is pure fantasy. I would say this: despite the harsh realities and vitriolic rhetoric, another effort at Hamas-Fatah power-sharing should not be ruled out. The very first Saudi response to developments, coming from their Foreign Minister, was
It would be best for our Palestinian brothers to return to their commitment to the Mecca agreement [on Palestinian unity] and work to carry it out.
And, although key Arab States are now backing Abbas, some are likely to re-float unity government ideas in the near future. Similar calls are likely to be heard from within Fatah and Hamas. Most of the Hamas leadership have already adopted this position while some Fatah leaders who might favor such an approach including Marwan Barghouti, are setting preconditions.
The current anger and refusal to consider power-sharing is real, but much of it is more of a tactic than an absolute. Many in Fatah will be sensitive to charges of being complicit in punishing Palestinian Gazans, and will feel very uncomfortable with an American-Israeli bear hug. Sections of the Arab press have started referring to some of Fatah as "Lahadists" -- taken from the name of the SLA leader Antoine Lahad who ran the Israeli proxy army in South Lebanon.
Likewise, Hamas leaders are sensitive to accusations that they have damaged the Palestinian cause and overstepped the boundary in their behavior. And Hamas is constantly conscious of the danger of being labeled Persians or Shia in the exclusively Arab-Sunni Palestinian society. This is based on the support they receive from Iran and was chanted at several Fatah rallies.
So common interest may be found in returning to power-sharing. Already in Gaza, some important remaining elements of the Fatah leadership are in close contact with Hamas, notably, Ahmed Hils, who led Gaza Fatah opposition to Dahlan.
The Palestinian owned Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper drew the following conclusion in its editorial: "The resumption of dialogue between the two poles of the Palestinian political movement, Fatah and Hamas, is the only way to get out of the catastrophe."
And the Financial Times editorial notes: "there may be no way back. But if there is, it requires urgent Arab mediation to get Hamas and Fatah back into a caretaker government."
If and when that happens, President Bush should drop his colossal ideological struggle narrative and take a drop of the American Realism elixir that Secretary Rice Was recently promoting.
By the way, Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian has just weighed in with his wisdom on this. Freedland gets it and points out that Europe also is to blame:
The western strategy, endorsed not only in Jerusalem and Washington but by European foreign ministers at their meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, is to set up an elaborate demonstration exercise for the Palestinians. They will be offered two alternative Palestines and asked to choose which one best represents their future.
On the West Bank shall arise Fatahland... In Gaza, meanwhile, would fester the new land of Hamastan.
He goes on to make all the important points: the credibility of Abbas would be further ruined, Israel is unlikely to deliver the goods, Hamas will see incentives to be a spoiler:
The sounder approach is surely to recognise that Hamas is now a fact of life in Palestine, just as political Islam is a fact of life in the Middle East. We may wish it were not so - I certainly do - but we cannot wish it away.
... It's time to recognise reality and to follow the oldest advice in the diplomats' handbook: you don't make peace with your friends - you make peace with your enemies.