The Quartet has been mobilized

In a joint statement on Friday, the Quartet – which groups the U.N., U.S., EU and Russia – spelled out very clearly the requirements of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and called for a resumption of negotiations between the protagonists to agree the details within 24 months. In scope and tone the statement ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

In a joint statement on Friday, the Quartet - which groups the U.N., U.S., EU and Russia - spelled out very clearly the requirements of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and called for a resumption of negotiations between the protagonists to agree the details within 24 months.

In scope and tone the statement is more assertive and specific than previous U.S. pronouncements on what is required, but echoes a December statement of the EU Council of Ministers. Calling on the Israelis and Palestinians to act on the basis of international law, the Quartet, "re-affirms that unilateral actions taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community."

In a joint statement on Friday, the Quartet – which groups the U.N., U.S., EU and Russia – spelled out very clearly the requirements of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and called for a resumption of negotiations between the protagonists to agree the details within 24 months.

In scope and tone the statement is more assertive and specific than previous U.S. pronouncements on what is required, but echoes a December statement of the EU Council of Ministers. Calling on the Israelis and Palestinians to act on the basis of international law, the Quartet, "re-affirms that unilateral actions taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community."

Specifically, the statement reminds the Israelis that the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community and ‘condemns’ the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. This will not go down well with Israelis for whom sovereignty over all Jerusalem in considered non-negotiable.

For the Palestinians, however, the Quartet promise to monitor closely future developments on the ground in Jerusalem will not go far enough. As their spokesman Saeb Erekat has warned, if they face no specific penalties for doing so, the Israelis may continue what Palestinians dub the progressive ‘Judaisation’ of East Jerusalem.

However, the Quartet statement may well provide Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sufficient cover to agree to participate in the so-called proximity talks proposed by the Americans and put on hold as a result of the recent spat between the Israeli leadership and Washington that erupted during the visit of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to Jerusalem.

Abbas will at least be comforted by the Quartet’s clear endorsement of his leadership and of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s state-building program, while making no mention of their Islamist rival Hamas. The Gaza Strip, where Hamas presides, features in the Quartet statement as a cause for concern purely in terms of the humanitarian and human rights situation of the civilian population.

The Quartet also gives recognition to the Arab peace initiative and looks forward to closer cooperation with the Arab League and regional governments in supporting a resumption of bilateral negotiations. Thus the scene looks set for the Palestinian leadership to receive U.S. envoy George Mitchell on his return to the region and move closer toward something that at least resembles ‘proximity talks’.

For their part the Israelis have said repeatedly that they are willing to enter negotiations without preconditions, blaming the Palestinians for presenting obstacles. The Quartet statement, while forthright, does not pose conditions, so technically it should not give the Israelis cause to reconsider their position on the negotiations per se. What it does do is demonstrate international support for the Obama administration’s stance on the requirements for conflict resolution.

All that being said, this latest Quartet initiative does not constitute a breakthrough. It provides no new ways to oblige the parties to make "the difficult choices" required to deliver "an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel." That will require more than an end to settlement expansion. It will require the removal of a good many settlements plus land swaps.

In the face of this necessity it is not only the Palestinians who will suffer from internal divisions. Israelis will also divide among themselves over what to keep and what to relinquish in Jerusalem and the West Bank if they have to evacuate. Thus if a peace process really does resume, acrimony and violence will likely escalate across the board.

Consequently, if the Quartet is to realize the goals spelled out in its statement, it will have to go beyond cajoling the recalcitrants, and also become more actively engaged on the ground to bolster those who would like to choose peace but who, without support, will not prevail in what promises to be a very rocky road ahead.

In the meanwhile, the US has used the Quartet as a vehicle to send a strong message to the Israeli government that Washington’s support is not automatic.

Dr. Rosemary Hollis is Director of the Olive Tree Programme at City University London.

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