Mideast Quartet meet to get derailed peace train back on track
The meeting comes at a low-point in relations between Israel and its biggest ally the US, after President Obama spoke in favor of a return to established pre-1967 borders.
That year, Israel occupied vast swathes of Palestinian land, and has since declared much of it as its own.
The quartet stated that the sides have considerable disagreements and need to make the complicated decisions themselves. According to the quartet, the disagreements in question have stalled progress in relations between the two sides.
The mediators called for direct dialogue between the Palestinian and Israeli authorities, and said that they are ready to help the sides reach a compromise. The quartet gathered in Washington on Monday to discuss the possibility of a resumption of the peace talks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov represented Russia in the talks. In his comment, Lavrov said Israel is too focused on its security while Palestine is heading for sovereignty, which does not allow the two communities to reach a final peace agreement. He was rather pessimistic saying that the situation is “not really assuring,” as everything is in place for the final agreement but the conflicting parties do not seem to want to discuss any other “final status” issues: Jerusalem or refugees or water resources.
The gathering of the quartet also comes ahead of a key UN vote this September, on officially recognizing the Palestinian Autonomy as a sovereign state, something strongly opposed by Israel.
The Quartet has gathered at a time when its efforts as a global mediator in the Middle East peace process are largely seen as ineffective. There is an assessment that cause for negotiations alone is not enough and the peace process has actually reached a dead end.
The failure to negotiate a solution to the greatest Middle East problem indulges Palestinians to seek a vote by the UN General Assembly in September recognizing a state of Palestine. That definitely adds urgency to the meeting of the Quartet. This meeting could be the last chance for the global mediators to prove their efficiency before the voting in September most certainly divides the international community.
Given the lack of progress in the peace process, the parties involved agreed they need to do some rethinking, Dr Andrew C. Kuchins from the Center for Strategic and International Studies has commented on the Washington talks.
“The fundamental differences really lie between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and to a lesser extent amongst the members of the quartet,” said Kuchins.
Kuchins is not confident about any immediate breakthroughs on the Middle East. Meanwhile, the Arab Spring has been drawing all the diplomats’ and officials’ energy and time from the Middle East situation.
There is a vision that all Quartet members share and that is a two state solution for Israelis and Palestinians and the starting point for these negotiations has to be the pre-1967 borders lines. But the mere mention of a return to those borders has been labeled by Israel as unacceptable.
Palestinians, on the other hand, demand Israelis stop building settlements on the occupied territories – which Israel ignores.
There is a whole snowball of conditions that have resulted in a decades-old impasse. The two sides could never come to a solution bilaterally so their last hope was always the international community which could mediate a peaceful outcome. But even though the Middle East Quartet has declared it
wants to see two independent states, eventually they have not been united in how they see the path to the solution. For example, the US blocks every attempt of the UN to influence the situation. Israeli settlements could serve as an example to that. The Obama administration has called the settlement expansion illegitimate but when it came to actually voting in the UN Security Council to condemn the settlement expansion as illegal, the US vetoed the resolution. It could be said that the Palestinian voice is virtually blocked in the US, where Palestinians as a nation are labeled terrorists. But mediation is next to impossible when you refuse to talk to one of the sides.
Analysts say as Israel is a protectorate of the US it makes it hard to expect a balanced approach from Washington, whereas Russia is seen as a more impartial mediator.
Moscow has held consultations with both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, many times, hearing their grievances and expectations.
Meanwhile, Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the anti-war ANSWER coalition, says there is little chance of a peaceful resolution, as long as the US continues to fashion its policies around Israeli interests.
“There are different desires and different agendas within the Quartet. From the US government point of view the purpose of the new Israeli talks is to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority which has received nothing, neither from Israelis nor from Americans, over the past years,” Becker says, recalling that despite Obama’s promise to halt the construction of Israeli settlements on the West bank, they are continuing to grow, and on top of all that the siege of Gaza still continues and Tel-Aviv claims all of Jerusalem for itself.
“The American government, which is Israel’s primary sponsor, giving Israel $US 3 billion a year making it the largest recipient of US foreign aid, are realizing that Israel could become isolated so they are trying to come up with some solution, but this solution is not acceptable to the broad mass of Palestinian people. It means giving up the right of return, giving all Jerusalem to Israel.”
As long as the US continues to follow the Israeli agenda, which aims to grab more and more of the Palestinian territory, there cannot be a solution, concludes Brian Becker.