It is not clear whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recent call for national and comprehensive dialogue with Hamas is a significant change of position. Some PA leaders claim that the Hamas coup in Gaza must be reversed before talks can begin, others believe that such political conditions have been dropped. What is clear is that following the ups and downs of the Hamas-Fatah relationship is a somewhat pointless exercise, since what is most important is not declarations and even talks but the power balance that underlies them. For example, let s say that Hamas and Fatah were able to reach a modus vivendi and in some way join forces. Would the missile attacks from Gaza on Israel continue? Would this joint Palestinian entity meet the Quartet conditions regarding recognition of Israel and ending support for terrorism? The answer to these questions will be a function not of the formal relationship between warring Palestinian entities but rather of which broad camp – the Islamists in Hamas and Hezbollah or the nationalists in Fatah – has the upper hand. This, in turn, will be most likely determined by forces arrayed in concentric circles outside the Palestinian-Israeli arena. The first of these circles is the Arab world. If the Arab states, principally Egypt, are exerting increased pressure on Hamas – perhaps by ending the flow of weapons across the Egyptian-Gaza border – then Fatah might be willing and able to tip the Palestinian balance toward negotiations rather than aggression. But what determines the stance of the Arab states? At Annapolis and since, we have seen that the Arab states are not happy about the rise of Iranian power and are willing to make gestures toward an American-led peace process. At the same time, these states will not, despite limited American urging to do so, significantly advance this process by setting an example and taking concrete steps toward Israel. Egypt s ambivalent position is typical in this regard. Aside from attending Yitzhak Rabin s funeral, President Hosni Mubarak has never visited Israel. Egypt could greatly reduce or end the weapons flow into Gaza but does not. And Egypt is not above pushing for Hamas-Fatah reconciliation on terms that would not meet the Quartet s conditions and would represent a defeat for the pro-negotiations Palestinian camp. All of this is a function partly of the historic Arab preference for a process over peace itself. But at this time it is even more related to uncertainty regarding the surrounding concentric circle, that of the struggle between Iran and the West. So long as the Arab states see an approaching Iranian nuclear shadow on the horizon, they will not grant the West a victory that they have fought and resisted for the past century: ending the war to destroy the Jewish state. The same goes for the Palestinians, whether in Hamas or Fatah. Rather than attempting to read Palestinian tea leaves, anyone who cares about the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace should be looking to European capitals, to the US election in November and perhaps also to the leadership crisis in Israel. If the current too-little-too-late approach toward Iran continues, everyone knows that Iran will get the bomb, radical forces in the region will automatically be strengthened and current peace efforts will fail-among many other negative consequences for the region and the world. Fortunately, there is also no doubt that the situation can be changed given a modicum of willingness in the West to act upon its values and interests. While less than one percent of Europe s trade is with Iran, 40 percent of Iran s trade is with Europe. The Iranian regime is unpopular and vulnerable to determined economic and diplomatic isolation and, as a last resort, its nuclear program is vulnerable to military measures. Dealing with Iran may seem like a round-about way to address an Israeli-Palestinian impasse, but the refusal to see the Iranian angle actually reveals other blinders. Granting radical Islamism a nuclear umbrella would not just end any prospects for Arab-Israeli peace but would launch a regional nuclear arms race, jack up the price of oil, spell doom for moderate Lebanese, Iraqis and Palestinians, presage attempts to destabilize Arab regimes and invite a new rash of terrorism in western countries. No amount of putting out fires will stop a pyromaniac. While dealing with the pyromaniac may be daunting, there is no choice, and it also presents the opportunity, if successful, of advancing many situations at once. If the Iranian regime falls or is forced into a Libyan-style capitulation, the prospects for regional and global peace, freedom and security will be dramatically enhanced. It is not just the future of Israelis and Palestinians that hangs in the balance.
Saul Singeris editorial page editor of and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post. He is on leave this year while writing a book.