October 31, 2011 Edition 31 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
The latest Quartet initiative
A serious challenge  - Ghassan Khatib
Israel's settlement construction challenges the Quartet to act.

Pointless and depressing  - Yossi Alpher
Whatever the Quartet says or does, it appears to have lost all credibility in both Israel and Palestine.

The Quartet facade  - Sam Bahour
Israel and the US have perfected the management of international players in the Mideast conflict.

A dangerous illusion of conflict management  - Akiva Eldar
The Quartet can only play a limited role. Limited, but very significant.

To subscribe, simply click on the link : subscribe. The following articles may be republished with proper citation given to the author and

At our website,, you will also find past editions, an extensive documents file and information about us, along with relevant subscription information.

A serious challenge
 Ghassan Khatib
One of the motives behind the Palestinian appeal to the United Nations is to gradually escape the United States' monopoly over mediation in the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis, seeking instead an even-handed mediation that is sensitive to the position of the international community, international law and the agreed-upon peace process terms of reference, like the roadmap.

One of the outcomes of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' request for UN membership in September has been the active role of the Quartet, which includes representatives of the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations. This Mideast working group seems to be trying to fill the growing gap in mediation that has resulted from the failures of the US.

When discussions on the Palestinian bid at the UN reached a critical level due to strong American opposition to the Palestinian application at the Security Council, the Quartet stepped in and issued a political statement from New York on September 23, 2011. This statement called on both parties to the conflict to resume direct negotiations within a month, specifying a timetable for that purpose.

After a relatively long pause, both sides responded positively, while cautiously, and with two different readings of the Quartet statement. The Israelis saw in this initiative support for their call to resume bilateral talks without preconditions. The Palestinians, however, also backed the statement, specifically emphasizing its Article No. 5, which reads: "The Quartet calls upon the parties to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are to be effective. The Quartet reiterated the obligations of both parties under the Roadmap."

The Palestinians, while responding positively in general, emphasized the need that the Quartet ensure Israel's cessation of settlement activities, which are both "provocative actions" and part of the "obligations of both parties under the Roadmap".

The Israeli response to that was that if the Quartet had intended a settlement freeze, it would have spelled that out explicitly. Israel rejected that reading out of hand. On October 10, 2011, following a major Israeli decision to build 1,200 new housing units in Gilo settlement, the EU (an important member of the Quartet), issued a statement saying it "deplores the recent Israeli decision to advance settlement expansion in East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo, which runs contrary to Quartet efforts". This was understood to support the Palestinian understanding of the Quartet statement. Soon after that EU statement, top UN and Russian officials also condemned the decision to expand Gilo, stating that this move defied the Quartet's expectations.

These statements from three of the four members of the Quartet justified the Palestinian expectation that Israel must stop its expansion of illegal Israeli settlements as part of its positive response to the Quartet.

In fact, Israel's immediate violations of this Quartet statement pose a serious challenge to the international community. They illustrate the need to move from verbal reactions to effective and practical steps that are able to convince Israel of the seriousness of the international community's intervention in the conflict.

Otherwise, we will all fall once again into the Israeli trap of resuming negotiations for the sake of negotiations, which Israel uses to shield itself as it continues to consolidate its illegal occupation through settlement construction. Indeed, even the Quartet seemed to acknowledge this danger when it stated in the same document that, "meeting, in itself, will not re-establish the trust necessary for such a negotiation to succeed."-Published 31/10/2011 ©

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

Pointless and depressing
 Yossi Alpher
Last week, representatives of the Quartet met with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and declared they had extracted a commitment from both sides to submit their final status negotiating positions on borders and security within three months. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat proceeded to deny any such Palestinian commitment, while Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Mahmoud Abbas intimated he might soon consider dissolving the Palestinian Authority.

On the Israeli side, interest in the Quartet declaration was so low that it was ignored by all the major media. And Israel again turned down an American request for a temporary freeze on settlement construction.

Whatever the Quartet says or does, it appears to have lost all credibility in both Israel and Palestine.

The reasons are multifold, and profound. It behooves the policy-making echelon of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations--who make up the Quartet--to take note of these factors if the international community's Middle East peace efforts are again to be relevant.

First, and most significantly, the Quartet's four members are still advocating a peace format, Oslo, that has failed two serious attempts (in 2000 and 2008) to produce mutually-acceptable solutions for the final status issues. It's time for the Quartet to take the lead in reassessing the entire Oslo process and its suitability to a rapidly changing Middle East environment.

Second, the Quartet persists in ignoring the obvious hawkish and anti-two-state composition of the Netanyahu government in Israel. The incompatibility of that government with a genuine peace process should have been obvious from the outset, more than two and a half years ago. Yet so blind is the Quartet's behavior that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is able repeatedly to thumb his nose at the international peacemakers by advancing key building projects in East Jerusalem or the West Bank without risking anything more than a mild verbal rebuke.

Third, the Quartet ignores the clear signals sent out by Abbas to the effect that he no longer has any faith in negotiations with the government of Israel and prefers an international track at the UN. This is not just about Netanyahu and his posturing and maneuvering; Abbas' loss of faith began in response to the far-reaching peace proposal he received and rejected back in 2008 from then-prime minister Ehud Olmert. Abbas now appears to understand that his own position on the pre-1967 negotiating issues, the holy basin and the right of return--to the effect that there is no Jewish people, the Jews have no historic national rights in the Holy Land and the state of Israel was "born in sin" in 1948--is incompatible with that of any self-respecting Israeli leader. Against this backdrop, Abbas' ostensibly troublesome UN move should be seen by the Quartet as a potentially promising initiative that could be leveraged into a win-win proposition, rather than an attempt to sabotage peace.

Fourth, the key member of the Quartet, the Obama administration, has signaled very clearly that for the duration of the coming election year it will not commit to any Middle East peace process that could conceivably bring it into a serious clash with Israel.

The Quartet seemingly remains oblivious to all these facts, insights and lessons of recent history, even when they are elucidated and explained to the relevant Quartet officials by their own analysts. Understandably, it is difficult after 18 years of institutional and ideological investment in the Oslo process to contemplate the need for a new peace model. Here we need only look at the Israeli peace camp, which seemingly misreads the situation just as badly. The only difference is that the Quartet appears to have a life of its own, while the peace camp's legions are dwindling rapidly, thereby assuring the ongoing survival and stability of the Netanyahu government.

The situation could be different. Those seriously interested in advancing a two-state solution must reevaluate the demise of Oslo, factor in the core reasons for Abbas' UN initiative, and set about fashioning a new, post-Oslo two-state paradigm based on a "win-win" approach. The coming year could be exploited far better toward that end than through pointless and increasingly depressing Quartet resolutions and visits.-Published 31/10/2011 ©

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 facade
 Sam Bahour
Israel and the United States have perfected, almost to a science, the management of international players who dare to intervene in trying to advance peace in the Middle East between Palestinians and Israelis. The most recent political configuration to serve this purpose is the "Quartet on the Middle East", better known as just "the Quartet", a self-appointed foursome of nations and international and supranational entities involved in mediating the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Quartet is comprised of the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia. The group was established in Madrid in 2002. Given that the United States dominates the Quartet, one does not need to be a political scientist to conclude that the entire setup merely serves as a facade for continued American unwillingness to uphold its legal obligations, under international law, to hold its strategic ally, Israel, accountable for maintaining an unlawful four-decade military occupation of Palestinians.

In the opening paragraph of their first joint statement in Madrid on April 10, 2002, the Quartet members stated that, "We reviewed the escalating confrontation in the Middle East and agreed to coordinate our actions to resolve the current crisis." Note the timing of their actions and their focus. The Quartet emerged in an attempt to negotiate a ceasefire between then-Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israel, the occupying power, who at the time had re-invaded all Palestinian cities and surrounded Arafat's Ramallah headquarters with tanks. Also interestingly, their scope of work--as defined in their own statement--was aimed to "resolve the current crisis" and not necessarily bring about a lasting peace among the parties, even as the same statement paid lip-service to a supposed peace process that would lead to the end of the conflict.

This poor excuse for a balancing act between maintaining an Israeli security agenda while assuming to advance peace has been the mantra that the Quartet has become known for. Fast forward to the Quartet's most recent statement, issued on September 23, 2011, the same day Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas submitted an application to the secretary general of the United Nations for full membership for Palestine. In this statement, the Quartet called for "an agreement within a time frame agreed to by the parties, but not longer than the end of 2012". What they have failed to advance, one iota, for over more than nine years, they now want to do in a single year, utterly ignoring that their repeated failures, purposeful or not, have caused serious damage on the ground: they have allowed for not only the total collapse of any serious resemblance of a peace process, but more importantly allowed Israel to continue building more facts on the ground, such as tripling the Jewish-only settlement enterprise in the West Bank, as well as building the internationally-condemned Separation Wall cutting deep into Palestinian lands and communities. This is not to mention the Quartet turning a blind eye to the ongoing onslaught by Israel on Gaza and continued siege of the Gaza Strip.

As if the Quartet itself was not enough, the group has created another layer of the facade of being genuine mediators by creating the Office of the Quartet and appointing high-profile envoys to this office. The current envoy is the United Kingdom's ex-prime minister Tony Blair, who succeeded James Wolfensohn, the former president of the World Bank who resigned from his post at the Quartet in disgust with American hegemony and unwillingness to allow the Quartet to play a real role in making peace.

Much has been reported about the office of the Quartet representative and its style of leadership, but this is all a sideshow. The core of the matter is political, not personal. Regardless of who the special envoy is, the parties to the Quartet are political and have a political role to play. They cannot shed their political responsibility--and legal one, too--by laying blame on the envoy.

In an extended interview with Haaretz more than a year after he resigned from his 11-month ordeal as Quartet special envoy, James Wolfensohn said it best: "I feel that if anything, I was stupid for not reading the small print. I was never given the mandate to negotiate the peace." Haaretz noted in reporting the interview that, "The mandate he received, he says--which is identical to the one Tony Blair has now been given--was solely to try to improve the economic situation in the territories and to improve the Palestinians' situation in general, whereas he naively thought that this included intervention to advance peace."

Sadly, it is not surprising that the nation states represented in the Quartet would play along with this sham. What is unacceptable is that the United Nations itself, the body tasked with holding nations accountable for their actions, would accept to play along. The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will reveal much more than how the Holy Land was torn apart; it will also feature how the Palestinians' struggle for freedom and independence became the Achilles' heel of an international system of governance that has become broken beyond repair.-Published 31/10/2011 ©

Sam Bahour is a Ramallah-based management consultant.

A dangerous illusion of conflict management
 Akiva Eldar
The Middle East Quartet was invented in 2003 as an instrument designed to reopen the dark Israeli-Palestinian tunnel and show both peoples the light at its end. More than eight years later, the Quartet is still looking for the tunnel.

The light is clear to most reasonable observers: it flickers around the 1967 lines with mutual territorial swaps and a realistic solution to the 1948 refugee problem. Unfortunately, it is hard to find a single political analyst who believes that current diplomatic efforts will lead us there. The gap between the present Israeli and Palestinian leaderships on all the core issues is a prescription for the instant collapse of final status negotiations. This could precipitate another round of violence, perpetuation of the occupation and regional instability.

Hence, given the risk that attempting to resolve the conflict will exacerbate it rather than bring forth a solution, there is no interest in entering that tunnel. The statement issued by the Quartet's delegation after last week's visit to the region is an indication that this distinguished forum is becoming a conflict-management instrument rather than advancing conflict resolution. Practically speaking, the Quartet is using the language and methodology of final status negotiations to manage the conflict. This creates the illusion of constant momentum and seemingly fills a political vacuum.

Keeping the peace process on the back burner is a legitimate option only if there is good reason to believe that the status quo can prevail for a reasonable time. But this is definitely not the case. Once it becomes clear that President Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince the international community to play a truly active role in the Palestinian-Israeli arena, Fateh will have very little to offer its people. And when the two-state solution is removed from the Palestinian agenda and the way is cleared for the resumption of violent struggle, the little that remains of the so-called "Zionist left" in Israel will fade away.

Neither the Quartet nor the United States is able to resolve the conflict or should be expected to do so. As long as the parties involved are not ready to make concessions that can be accepted by the majority of Israelis and Palestinians, the Quartet can only play a limited role.

Limited, yet very significant. First, it needs to reveal the positions of the two parties on all core issues. Second, it must offer a clear interpretation regarding the way these positions do or do not correspond with international law and consensus. Third, the Quartet will have to put forward bridging ideas, followed by a list of "carrots"--benefits to the party or parties that are willing to take risks for peace--and "sticks" for those who refuse to take the risks.

The prerequisite to meeting these challenges is to bring the parties to the negotiating table. However, the Quartet, like the Obama administration, is caught up in the settlements moratorium trap. The Palestinians argue that the 2003 roadmap, which is mentioned in the Quartet's September 23 statement, requires a complete freeze of settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They claim that respecting this previous agreement cannot be considered a "precondition", and refuse to enter negotiations until this demand is satisfied.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claims that this issue should be discussed in bilateral negotiations and insists that any moratorium should exclude the Jewish neighborhoods across the 1967 lines in "united Jerusalem". It is also very likely that if he ever gets to the negotiating table, Netanyahu will insist that the terms of reference of the talks include his problematic demand that the objective be "a Jewish state, next to a Palestinian state".

Another 90-day moratorium will not make a practical difference to either the Palestinian or the Israeli side. It can be expected that the strongest party, namely the Israelis, will make the concession and remove this impediment to negotiations. The Palestinians, who live under occupation, are suffering from the status quo much more than the Israelis. The Quartet has to offer Abbas a strong commitment that once he opens the way to bilateral talks with Israel, the Quartet will insist that Netanyahu immediately put his final status map on the table. It has to promise Abbas that if Netanyahu's border lines are far from those of June 4, 1967, the road to United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state based on those lines will be opened.

Abbas keeps complaining that President Barack Obama convinced him to join him atop the tree of his demand for a complete settlement-construction moratorium, then abandoned him alone at the top of the tree without a ladder. This is quite an accurate metaphor. But Abbas should know that leaders are judged by their courage to jump from high places whenever they believe that it is required by the vital interests of their people.-Published 31/10/2011 ©

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.