Sunday, July 17, 2011

'Quartet Ineffective', Arabs Should Step In

By Musa Keilani
The international Quartet has proved ineffective in fulfilling its mandate to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace. The Quartet, made up of the US, the UN, the European Union and Russia, could not get out of its trap when it met in Washington this month. It was expected to give a new impetus to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, but the four could not even come up with a joint statement.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, in comments to reporters after the meeting, appealed to Israel and Palestinians to resume peace negotiations, but they could not set a baseline except calling for a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem.
Obviously, the Quartet meeting failed to agree on such a baseline and that was the reason for the absence of a joint statement. Setting a baseline would have forced Israel’s hand by setting the shape of a peace agreement on terms rejected by it, including a recommendation that the negotiations be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 war, subject to mutually agreed territorial swaps.
The European Union and Russia would gladly affirm their support for that position, and the UN would go along with it. After all, according to UN decisions and international law, the 1967 borders should indeed be the starting point for peace negotiations, and the Quartet would have been only reaffirming it. But the US, whose president, Barack Obama, recently said it was official US policy that negotiations be based on the 1967 borders, but with room for land swaps, held the Quartet back.
The Quartet could not also agree on how to deal with the Palestinian quest for UN recognition of statehood. The US is opposed to the move, and members of the European Union do not have a common position on the issue. Some EU members said they are in favour of the Palestinian move, while others have argued against it, saying a solution should be produced only through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
That leaves the Palestinians nowhere. Short of a miracle, they could expect the US to veto their request for statehood if the issue reaches the UN Security Council. Of course, they have the option to go to the General Assembly first and seek an overwhelming endorsement of a statehood based on the 1967 borders. That would force the US to make clear its position.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has pledged to go ahead with the bid for UN recognition with Arab backing. With the failure of the Quartet to help revive peace talks, there is no option left to him. In the meantime, he also has to abide by the agreement of all Palestinian factions to settle all differences and form a national unity government including Hamas.
Israel is sticking by its warning that it will not deal with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas. Abbas should not worry about the Israeli stand, since he could not hope to make any realistic progress towards a peace agreement without a collective Palestinian position behind him. Furthermore, there is no prospect of a fair and just peace agreement with or without a collective Palestinian position.
Hamas should also be ready to make amends to its position and be explicit about being ready to accept a solution based on the 1967 borders. Hamas leaders have said that they are ready to do so, but it has not been made official because of Israel’s affirmation that it would dictate the terms of any agreement with the Palestinians.
Abbas should be working on both fronts: ensure that he would have an overwhelming support at the UN General Assembly when he takes the issue of statehood there, and work on whatever differences he has with Hamas and form a new government.
In the meantime, the Quartet’s failure has become clear. It is difficult to see the group providing the help necessary for negotiations for a fair and just settlement of the Palestinian problem. The European Union, which generally favours the Palestinian effort for independent statehood, should come up with a stronger position against the US domination of the political process. However, it is difficult to see the bloc’s members agree with each other on this issue, given Washington’s clout and pressure. But that should not preempt independent thinking of EU member countries.
The Europeans know too well that they would also have severe restrictions on their options in the Middle East as long as the Palestinian-Israeli problem remains unsolved. They should act to protect their interests.
The Arab world faces the responsibility of offering continued help to the Palestinians. It is evident that Washington would suspend its financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority - or attach conditions to the aid - if Hamas becomes part of a new Palestinian government. As such, the Arab world should provide the aid necessary for the PA to function and shoulder its task of managing Palestinian affairs.
Jordan, with its large demographic component of refugees and Gazans, is directly concerned about an emerging Palestinianstate and its multi-layered regional ramifications, economic, politic, financial and monetary.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 17/07/2011

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