July 18, 2011 Edition 21 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
Why the Quartet failed
An urgent need for intervention  - Ghassan Khatib
Some Palestinians saw the failure of the Quartet as positive.

Why the Quartet fears the UN track  - Yossi Alpher
Rather than condemn it, the Quartet should flow with it and leverage it.

The Quartet and unimplemented peace  - Nagi Shurrab
The Quartet offered new hope that a balanced, realistic and acceptable settlement might be reached.

Responsibility will rest with the Quartet  - Akiva Eldar
When the US avoids confrontation with Israel--even at the cost of collapse of the process--the Quartet stands aside.

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An urgent need for intervention
 Ghassan Khatib
Palestinian politicians and analysts were divided in their understanding and evaluation of last week's Quartet failure to agree on a statement promoting the resumption of a Palestinian-Israeli political process. Some Palestinians expressed disappointment and frustration because disagreements within the Quartet that prevented consensus indicate that the international community is not going to be able to help Palestinians and Israelis move forward towards ending the occupation and realizing peace.

Other Palestinians reached positive conclusions from the same failure, because the breakdown was rooted in European Union and Russian refusal to accept proposed American positions that were biased towards Israel and inconsistent with international law and the agreed-upon terms of reference of the peace process. The Americans seem to have wanted to introduce language that would recognize the so-called "Jewish" character of Israel (despite its 20 percent Arab minority) and accept Israeli alterations in the landscape of the occupied territories, i.e., settlements, which are illegal according to international law. This led to a disagreement.

Palestinian politicians and analysts who were happy with the resulting outcome (or lack thereof) would argue that on previous occasions, these disagreements ended with the Americans imposing their biased view on the other members of the Quartet. The EU seems to be moving--although slowly and cautiously--from being an observer in the peace process to being a player in it. That started with the declaration of the EU foreign minister's council in December 2009 (reaffirmed in December 2010), which stipulated for the first time a European Middle East policy that was balanced in addressing the legitimate concerns of both Palestinians and Israelis, and consistent with international legality.

In light of such developments, Palestinians, Arabs and Israel's peace camp must further encourage the EU and the individual European states to take a more active role in the international community's efforts, both in the Quartet and at the United Nations. This is the route to effective international efforts to help the parties come to a resolution.

The growing European role is even more urgent and vital in light of the apparent conclusion of the right-wing Israeli prime minister and his government that internal American politics and elections have more leverage on US President Barack Obama than Obama has over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel. The combination of Netanyahu, who is catering to his growing right-wing for election purposes, and Obama, who is constrained by impending presidential elections, mean that the American monopoly on the mediation of the peace process has almost zero chance of moving things forward.

For these reasons, it has become urgent for Palestinians to call at the United Nations for the international community to take a collective role and more direct and effective intervention in helping to end the occupation and realize the international vision of peace, as embodied in the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders.-Published 18/7/2011 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

Why the Quartet fears the UN track
 Yossi Alpher
The Quartet failed to find a formula for restarting the peace process because it is either unable or unwilling to recognize that both the Israeli and the Palestinian leaderships are uninterested right now. It failed because all four of its component actors--the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia--are either unable or unwilling to exercise the necessary pressure on the two sides to bring about a viable process. In this sense, there may be something encouraging in the Quartet's refusal last week in Washington to issue a new formula for renewing talks: the Quartet's members recognized that silence is a more honorable outcome than another unheeded invitation to negotiate.

The Quartet's failure parallels Washington's failure, as expressed in the resignation of presidential emissary George Mitchell and the glaring absence, in President Barack Obama's State Department speech of May 19, of an ultimatum to renew negotiations. With a presidential election year beginning shortly, the administration's domestic political considerations take precedent.

So why do they try? Why does Obama make speeches, and why does the Quartet still go through the motions of meeting? Logic would appear to dictate that the embarrassment of "losing" the peace process and being unable to revive it would drive the Quartet partners to take early summer vacations.

The answer appears to lie in the fear, expressed openly by the Quartet partners and particularly their leader, the US, lest the Arab and Palestinian initiative to turn to the UN signal the end of a negotiated solution and usher in a new round of violence. There are three problems with this concern.

First, even the most one-sided UN resolution, one confined to recognizing a Palestinian state and defining its borders and capital, cannot begin to be implemented--if, indeed, it has any binding validity whatsoever--without the renewal of negotiations. Certainly there is no chance the Security Council will approve a resolution that calls for force to be exercised against Israel to compel it to honor the new UN terms. Whether Israel continues to evade negotiations under these new terms or enters them under international pressure, bilateral talks will still be necessary to move the process forward.

Second, and more significantly, the Palestinian UN initiative can still be leveraged by the Quartet, or at least some of its members, into a balanced "win-win" resolution that does indeed move the process closer to a manageable two-state outcome. Such a resolution could give the Palestinians what they want--a state based on the 1967 lines with its capital in East Jerusalem--but balance this with commitments to Israel's needs in the form of land swaps, recognition as a Jewish state, postponement of discussion of "deal breakers" like the right of return and Jerusalem holy places, and guarantees for security and for resolution of remaining differences through negotiation. Neither side is likely to be overjoyed with this outcome, but both will have plenty to negotiate about in the aftermath and violence will be less likely.

And third, regarding a possible new round of violence: given the current Israeli-Palestinian stalemate and the volatile atmosphere in the surrounding Arab world, it could eventuate any day now with or without a UN resolution.

At the end of the day, the Quartet's failure reflects its refusal to come to terms with the fundamental truth underlying the UN initiative: neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian leadership is capable of making the concessions required for an end-of-claims resolution of the entire conflict, which is the way negotiations are defined under the Oslo accords. The Palestinian UN initiative for what is in effect a partial, territorial solution is in fact a healthy response to this dilemma. Rather than condemn it, the Quartet should flow with it and leverage it into something constructive.-Published 18/7/2011 ©

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

The Quartet and unimplemented peace
 Nagi Shurrab
In 2002, the Quartet was formed alongside the initiation of the roadmap, which imposes mutual and parallel obligations on Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinians were asked to cease all forms of violence and armed resistance, and Israelis were asked to stop building settlements, in stages leading to the creation of a Palestinian state and the resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict.

Through this, the Quartet succeeded in creating a basis for a settlement after repeated wars made it difficult for Palestinians and Israelis to give in to each other's demands, each fearing obliteration of its respective rights to exist. The Quartet offered new hope that a balanced, realistic and acceptable settlement might be reached, despite the persistence of this longest of world conflicts.

Since its inception, however, the Quartet has met regularly without achieving any concrete results or developing a binding plan of action for the parties. It has been unable to use its framework of international legitimacy to bend Palestinian and Israeli demands--because any settlement cannot be based on the maximum of either party's aspirations.

The failure of Quartet representatives to issue a statement last week calling for a resumption of negotiations with mutual guarantees for the parties, then, raises the question: why did they fall short?

The reason for the breakdown in direct talks is each party's refusal to waive its claims, with Palestinians insisting Israel accept a contiguous and sovereign state on the 1967 borders and the cessation of Israeli settlement in all of the Palestinian territories before talks continue. Israel, for its part, is demanding that Palestinians recognize the "Jewishness" of the state of Israel and that the vision of the Palestinian state be consistent with Israeli security needs.

In truth, the failure of the Quartet cannot be viewed separately from the political milieu within which it operates. There are many factors at work related to the nature of the conflict itself, the complexity of the issues at hand, the composition of and political constraints on the Quartet itself, the will of the international community, as well as the Palestinian and Israeli domestic political context. Further, the new Arab regional atmosphere is also playing a role.

Speaking about the Quartet itself, there is a conflict between its members, who represent on the one hand the international community through the United Nations and the secretary general, and on the other hand the United States, which actually established the committee and generated the vision of the roadmap. The US cannot be separated from its domestic political environment, which is driven by a Zionist lobby that puts pressure on decision-makers not to act against Israel's settlement enterprise. Herein lie the roots of the Quartet's failure to reach consensus.

The US usually does not propose positions or visions accepting a Palestinian state unless Israel has rubber-stamped them, thereby limiting the Americans' ability to effectively manage the conflict. The rest of the parties in the Quartet are not strong enough to impose their own visions--Russia's position might be closer to the Palestinians, but the European Union does not stray far from the US position and the UN, while wielding the strength of international legitimacy, only takes positions complimentary to the Quartet.

As a result, the Quartet was not even able to issue a final statement promoting negotiations or providing guarantees that might prevent Palestinians from resorting to the UN to gain recognition for the state of Palestine. Notably, it also, however, did not issue a statement recognizing the "Jewishness" of Israel, as Israel sought, or recognizing the 1967 borders as Palestinians wanted.

Playing into the Quartet's failure is the fact that both Palestinians and Israelis appear to lack confidence in its role. Palestinians did their part in the roadmap and got little in return; they now prefer to turn to the UN rather than wait for the Quartet to act. Add to that the crisis in Palestinian leadership, with Hamas strongly opposing negotiations with Israel, Palestinians' inability to accept Israel's "Jewishness" requirement, and President Mahmoud Abbas' conviction that he has made enough concessions for the sake of negotiations.

At the same time, Israel's positions do not lend themselves to the continuation of negotiations. Israel's coalition government and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman still do not accept the idea of a Palestinian state. They believe Palestinians have "alternative homelands" in the Arab world, and therefore have conditioned talks on Palestinians accepting Israel's "Jewishness", knowing that Palestinians cannot do this. Baldly, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cannot succeed in negotiations with Palestinians if he wants to keep his governing coalition. We seem to be stuck with this trend, as right-wing parties and settlers continue to make gains in Israeli politics.

Further, as mentioned, the Arab world is in flux and is being transformed. This political turning inward makes the position of the Arabs less effective at influencing the Quartet. This was reflected in the recent meeting of the Arab Monitoring Committee, which chose to evade its responsibilities and support the Palestinian bid to go to the UN instead of pressuring the Quartet to come up with a formula for a return to negotiations. At the same time, these regional transformations have given traction to the Arab sense that Israel has no credibility in negotiations, which may explain some of the Palestinian determination in standing by its demands.

The Quartet's failure to issue a statement at this time reflects all these challenges--compare this, for example, to its September 21, 2010 statement demanding Israel halt all settlement activity. Its failure, however, is one more sign that we are moving from the management of the conflict to a staged regional resolution.-Published 18/7/2011

Nagi Shurrab is professor of political science at al-Azhar University in Gaza.

Responsibility will rest with the Quartet
 Akiva Eldar
The creation of the Quartet by US President George W. Bush was a unique and interesting attempt to develop an effective international mechanism that is not subject to the problematic rules of the game of the United Nations. The new forum was supposed to expand America's wingspan without the burden of the Security Council and the nearly-200 members of the General Assembly.

The Quartet relegated the UN to one of four partners in formulating an international strategy for the Israel-Arab and particularly Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Quartet was intended to give US policy with its known pro-Israel tilt a more balanced image, backed by international consensus. The initiative to give the Quartet its own policy instrument headed by a senior statesman like Tony Blair gave hope to the Middle East peace camp that the international community was really coming to the rescue of stalled final status negotiations.

As of now, following last week's Quartet foreign ministers meeting in Washington, it's fair to say that disappointment has overwhelmed hope. The foreign ministers dispersed without agreeing on a way to deal with the Palestinian-Arab initiative to ask the UN in September for recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines. The senior officials meeting in Washington failed to present an alternative that would prevent the emergence of a new political, security and economic reality in the Middle East, with consequences for the region that no one can predict. The Quartet's failure to bring the parties back to the negotiating table in effect positioned the UN as the center of decision-making. Lest we forget, the Palestinian decision to appeal to the UN follows two years of failed American attempts, backed by the Quartet, to renew direct final status negotiations.

This failure should not come as a surprise to anyone who has monitored the Quartet's performance. Ever since its initial triumph in 2003, when it presented the roadmap to Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the Quartet has been heading downhill. The few Israelis and Palestinians who remember this key document and its contents view it as proof of the Quartet's ineffectiveness. Here it's sufficient to mention roadmap phase I that requires Israel to freeze settlement construction and dismantle the outposts. The Quartet has proven incapable of enforcing even this preliminary commitment.

Nor did the Quartet impede US President Barack Obama when he wasted nearly two valuable years in trying to freeze settlement construction. The European Union, Russia and the UN did not object to Obama's decision to veto a Security Council decision to condemn the renewal of construction beyond the green line. America's three partners gave their blessings to the Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks facilitated by US envoy George Mitchell, but fell silent when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu refused to reveal to Mitchell Israel's position regarding borders and security. In all these instances, America's domestic politics took priority over its Quartet partners.

Obama's May 19 speech, in which he proposed that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations be based on the June 4, 1967 lines with agreed territorial swaps, could have served as the basis of a Quartet consensus and complemented the roadmap (which states that a final status agreement will end the occupation that began in 1967) with regard to borders. The Palestinian leadership decided to adopt the principles presented in that speech and announced that if Israel followed suit it would be possible to renew final status talks and delay the appeal to the UN. Yet once again, Obama elected to avoid confrontation with Netanyahu and his friends in Congress and the American Jewish community. And once again, America's three Quartet partners decided to avoid a quarrel with Obama.

Whenever the US is ready to start the process moving--even at the risk of confrontation with Israel--the Quartet will stand by it. But when the US avoids confrontation with Israel--even at the cost of collapse of the process--the Quartet stands aside. If Maestro Obama does not at the last minute find a way to put negotiations on a safe and true track, the chaos that will visit the territories following UN recognition of a Palestinian state will constitute a requiem for the peace process. Responsibility for this crisis and its ramifications for the stormy Middle East will rest squarely with the Quartet.-Published 18/7/2011

Akiva Eldar is a columnist and editorial board member at Haaretz and was its US bureau chief. He is coauthor of "Lords of the Land" (2007), about the settlers.