News Analysis: Mideast Quartet's credibility harmed by failing to produce statement

13:49, July 13, 2011      

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by Adam Gonn

A Monday meeting of the Middle East Quartet (the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Russia) foreign ministers ended with no declaration of support for U.S. President Barack Obama's plan for renewed Israeli- Palestinian negotiations.

Prior to the meeting, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported that a statement favoring the strategy Obama outlined in a speech on May 19 would be released. The main thrust, and point of controversy in the speech was the idea that the cease-fire lines that existed between Israel and its Arab neighbors prior to the 1967 war would be the basis for talks on the borders of a future Palestinian state.

In the 1967 war Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, territories on which the Palestinians aim to establish their independent nation.

According to Ha'aretz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his government were concerned and feared that an endorsement would be issued following the meeting.

During a meeting between Obama and Netanyahu on May 20, the Israeli prime minister expressed his concern with the idea, arguing that it would leave Israel with "indefensible borders."

Regional analysts said that failure by the Quartet to issue a statement is undermining its credibility, and that the group seems to be unable to restart negotiations.


When Obama took office in 2009, he promised a more active U.S. involvement in the peace process than his predecessor George W. Bush. To get the parties back to the negotiation table, the U.S. president urged Israel to impose a 10-month freeze on West Bank settlement construction as a sign of good faith. Netanyahu agreed to the plan despite the political fallout from his right-wing government.

But when the 10 months moratorium ended in last September, Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas refused to resume negotiation without an extension of the freeze. Washington tried to persuade Israel to a one month extension, but Israel said that the freeze was a onetime offer.

With the negotiations at a standstill, Abbas opted to intensify the Palestinian efforts to seek UN recognition for an independent state, a vote that is likely to take place in September.

However, neither Israel nor the Quartet backs the UN vote option, and the latter have been trying to get the negotiations back on track, a goal which is facing a number of difficulties.


Yoram Meital of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev said that what is holding up the negations is the rejection by both sides of the others' demands.

Netanyahu is calling on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, while Abbas is demanding that the 1967 lines be the starting point of the negotiations.

Meital believes that Netanyahu is most likely very pleased by the other Quartet members' inertia to support the U.S. proposal.

He added that the current Israeli government isn't interested in serious negotiations with the Palestinians.

The UN bid is giving the government a perfect excuse not to engage in talks, as it can use it to argue that the other side isn 't interested in negotiations and have chosen unilateral action instead, according to Meital.


Samir Awwad of Birzeit University on the West Bank believes that the Palestinians are determined to go ahead with the UN recognition track.

"I and many people in Palestine think that is a desperate attempt to thwart the Palestinians from going to the UN, and demanding an actual recognition of Palestine as a full member of the General Assembly," Awwad said about the Quartet meeting.

Awwad added that the most important issue for the Palestinians at the moment is the continued expansion of Israeli settlement in the West Bank. He added that the failure by any party to stop the construction has left the Palestinians disappointed.

When the Quartet was established in 2002, one of its main purposes was to get more international actors involved in the negotiation between Israelis and the Palestinians, which until then had been the sole responsibility of the United States.

Many Palestinians consider the United States to be favoring Israel due to the close ties between the two countries. However, any hopes that the other members of the Quartet would function as a counterweight to the United States were soon dispelled, according to Awwad.

He added that "the Quartet has become tainted with the American position" and many Palestinians had expected the group to take "a more progressive position."

Source: Xinhua
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