Peace with Israel was not the subject of the summit meeting Palestinian leaders held in Mecca last week.

The Saudi government summoned the leaders of Hamas and Fatah to negotiate a halt in their incipient civil war, which was alarming and embarrassing the Arab world.

Still, the vaguely-worded agreement, and the creation of a coalition cabinet, might make peace with Israel more imaginable — if there is a lot more compromise from Hamas and a lot more diplomatic help from Washington.

Hamas and Fatah have reached understandings before, only to have them unravel. This deal could prove more durable because of the heavy investment of Saudi diplomatic capital and the dire financial condition of the Palestinian Authority.

Given the current political paralysis in Israel, Washington will have to take the lead in sending this message. Bush has wasted more than six years without coming up with a serious policy for reducing violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set to meet Israel’s PM Ehud Olmert and Abbas in a week. Her past trips to the region have been empty exercises. By recognising last week’s minimal Palestinian pact as a potential starting point, the White House could give her a chance to improve on that dismal record.