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A pact with promise

The accord between rival Palestinian factions is welcome. But Hamas must accept Israel's right to exist.

February 09, 2007

THE AGREEMENT between Palestinian factions reached in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday is welcome even if it accomplishes nothing more than an end, for now, to fratricidal violence in the Gaza Strip. It remains to be seen whether the agreement between Fatah and Hamas will bring something more -- an improvement in their material condition.

That additional blessing depends on whether Hamas is willing to join Fatah and its leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, in recognizing the state of Israel. While the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah manifests itself in multiple ways, the difference between the two movements that matters to the outside world -- including European and American donors -- involves the Jewish state.

Simply put, Abbas is willing to accept the reality of Israel even as he complains about the hardships Israelis have visited on his people. Hamas, the terrorist group/political party of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, so far has been willing only to dangle the possibility of a hudna, or 10-year truce. That's not good enough.

When the United States suspended aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas prevailed in parliamentary elections, Washington conditioned a resumption of aid on three commitments: accept Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and agree to abide by past agreements with Tel Aviv.

Thursday's agreement, brokered by a newly assertive Saudi Arabia, does direct the Hamas-led government to "respect international resolutions and the agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization" -- with Israel, that is. That's a good sign. But before Europe and the U.S. provide further assistance, the government must acknowledge Israel's right to exist.

That right is enshrined in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, passed after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and repeatedly reaffirmed, calling for a "just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security." Palestinians and other Arabs like to cite other language in 242 calling for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict," but the two concepts -- Israeli withdrawal and Israeli security -- are intertwined.

After years of equivocation, the late Yasser Arafat finally acknowledged that reality, setting in motion a process that produced the Palestinian Authority and the endorsement by the U.S., Russia, the U.N. and the European Union of a "two-state solution" in which Israel and a Palestinian state would exist side by side. Abbas recognizes Israel's right to exist (and with more credibility than Arafat enjoyed), but Hamas has held out.

That must change. It isn't enough for Hamas to "respect" past agreements or to hint that it now embraces a document drawn up by Palestinian prisoners last summer that seemed to endorse a two-state solution. A Palestinian "unity" government that can't unite on this question will remain suspect in the eyes of some of the countries that can most help the Palestinian people.

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