The Palestine Quartet – Out of Time and Out of Tune

August 24, 2010 by David Singer
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The Quartet – America, Russia, The European Union and the United Nations – continues to miss the beat  in attempting to revive its artificially orchestrated two-state solution – the creation of a new Arab state between Israel, Egypt and Jordan for the first time ever in recorded history. The Quartet has shown it in its latest statement that it has learned nothing from its failed performances over the past eight years in attempting to achieve that two-state solution by now asserting :

“The Quartet expresses its determination to support the parties throughout the negotiations, which can be completed within one year”

The Quartet appears unphased that as the most powerful negotiating team ever assembled in international diplomacy – it has consistently been playing out of tune ever since its opening performance when the printed program notes then published on 15 October 2002 stated:

“The following are the elements of  a performance-based and goal-driven roadmap, with clear phases, timelines, target dates, and benchmarks aiming at progress through reciprocal steps by the two parties in the political, security, economic, humanitarian, and institution-building fields,under the auspices of the Quartet. The destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005, as presented in President Bush’s speech of 24 June   [2002] … “

Reinforcing its complete misunderstanding of the playing time required to complete the performance of this very complex work called the Roadmap –  the Quartet then declared: “The plan establishes a realistic timeline for implementation. However, as a performance-based plan, progress will require and depend upon the good faith efforts of the parties, and their compliance with each of the obligations outlined below. Should the parties perform their obligations rapidly, progress within and through the phases may come sooner than indicated in the plan. Non-compliance with obligations will impede progress.”

Whatever good faith efforts the Quartet thought would be made by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in performing the Roadmap –  its judgement has been shown to have been totally unrealistic and its expectations incapable of being achieved.

The Quartet  has now seen its guest conductor – Special US envoy George Mitchell – publicly say: “We believe that there is a basis for proceeding and achieving a successful result, and we’re going to pursue that. We do not take the position that if you don’t get everything you want the first time you ask for it, you pack up your bags and go home. If that had been the standard applied in South Africa, there would never have been peace there; in Northern Ireland, there would never have been peace there; in Bosnia, there would never have been peace there.

It takes patience, persistence, a willingness to go back again and again, to not take the first no as a final no, to not take the 50th no as the final no or the 100th no. We are patient, we are persevering, and we are determined, and we believe there is a basis for concluding a peace agreement in the region, and that’s what we’re going to pursue.”

Mr Mitchell is deluding himself in believing this conflict between one Jewish State and 21 Islamic Arab States that continue to refuse to recognize the existence of such a Jewish State in their midst can be resolved like the conflicts in South Africa, Bosnia or Northern Ireland. Indeed one can seriously question whether those conflicts have been finally resolved as many tensions continue to simmer beneath the surface.

Mr Mitchell does not specify what he believes is the basis for now proceeding and achieving a successful result in regard to the West Bank and Gaza. All indications point in precisely the opposite direction. It is a pity that Mr Mitchell thinks it unnecessary to share the reasons for his optimism this time round – having seen his judgement badly dented as a result of his past failures to bring even the smallest of breakthroughs between Jews and Arabs.

Bashing your head against a brick wall will inevitably cause terminal brain damage –  especially in pursuing a resolution to a conflict as long-running and complex as the 130 years old Arab-Jewish dispute.

The Quartet needs to think again as to how progress can be made to end the current impasse. A new direction is urgently needed if any meaningful breakthrough is to be made.

Replacement of the Palestinian Authority with Jordan and Egypt as Israel’s new Arab negotiating partners has now become the imperative – especially as

  • Egypt and Jordan are the only two members of the 21 Arab League states to have signed peace treaties with Israel and
  • are the last Arab States to have respectively occupied Gaza and the West Bank between 1948-1967

Resolving Arab and Jewish claims in the West Bank and Gaza by allocating sovereignty of that territory between Jordan, Egypt, and Israel in direct negotiations is increasingly becoming the only proposal that has any chance of transforming the lives of the West Bank and Gazan Arabs.

It may not bring Arab League recognition of Israel nor solve every aspect of the Arab-Jewish conflict but it will become a positive circuit breaker in the quest for concluding a peace agreement in the region.

Perhaps the Quartet is slowly coming to this conclusion itself for the following reasons:

  1. Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak have been invited to join Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Washington on 2 September when direct negotiations are expected to be resumed.
  2. The Quartet’s latest statement pointedly makes no specific mention of the Roadmap as the basis on which these new negotiations are to be undertaken. Yet  three previous statements emanating  from the Quartet dated 26 June 2009, 24 September 2009 and 19 March 2010 – and expressly referred to in this latest statement – all specifically called for adherence to the Roadmap.

Certainly the diplomatic logjam caused by the continuing lack of progress in negotiations based on the Roadmap constitutes the greatest impediment to resolving the conflict between Jews and Arabs.

The Quartet needs to quickly remove the ambiguity created by its latest statement and let those attending the forthcoming Washington conference know whether it is the Roadmap that is to continue to be the basis of negotiations or whether its latest statement is indicative of a newly emerging playing field with different rules of engagement between the conflicting parties.

Please don’t stop the music. Just make sure everyone is playing from the same score. Otherwise the outcome will again be decidedly discordant.

David Singer is a Sydney Lawyer and Foundation Member of the International Analysts Network

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