The Middle East Quartet is stirring. After years of near hibernation, the group, composed of the U.S., the E.U., Russia and the U.N., is rubbing the diplomatic sleep from its eyes and moving towards another initiative to address the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
According to press accounts, the group is preparing a report that will likely call out Israel’s West Bank settlement policies as the principal obstacle to peace. There is speculation that the report will end up at the Security Council where it could form the basis of a resolution adverse to Israel. The likelihood that the U.S., in the waning days of the Obama administration, would exercise its veto is uncertain.
The Quartet was formed in 2002, as the Palestinian suicide terror campaign known as the “Second Intifada” was threatening to derail what was left of the Oslo peace process. The Quartet’s marquee initiative was the “performance-based and goal-driven roadmap,” issued in April 2003. The “Roadmap” was a staged plan for salvaging Oslo, expressly leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state within two-three years and an end-of-conflict.
The plan was never implemented and, given the Palestinians’ increasing intransigence, evasion and incitement in the years since, it is not hard to understand why.
While the Roadmap expressly adopted the Palestinian’s prime goal of creating an independent Palestinian state, the Quartet punted on key demands that Israel insisted were necessary to achieve the true “end-of-conflict/end-of claims” agreement it sought. Among other flaws, the plan failed to require Palestinians to acknowledge the reality of Israel as a Jewish state and left open the Palestinians’ demand that millions of refugees have a personal right to “return” to pre-1967 Israel. The Quartet relegated the make-or-break refugee issue to a “just, fair, and realistic solution” to the final stage of negotiations.
The conclusion is compelling that the Quartet failed to press the Palestinians on issues most important to Israel because it knew that Palestinians would balk, leaving the plan stillborn – which, of course, is what happened anyway.
While, according to press accounts, the Quartet will condemn Palestinian incitement and violence, there is no indication that the group will come to grips with the core issue of Palestinian rejectionism. Israel has long accepted the goal of an independent Palestinian state, but there is no signal that the Quartet will tell Palestinians they must do the functional equivalent. The Quartet has yet to tell Palestinians that a true peace process requires them to acknowledge that the war of 1948 is long over, and that the four generations of refugees they have cynically maintained in stateless limbo – as a weapon against Israel – will “return” to the nascent Palestinian state, not Israel.
A one-sided report from the Quartet threatens more harm than just another failed peace initiative. It would send precisely the wrong message to both sides.
By calling out settlements as the primary impediment to peace – despite pervasive Palestinian dysfunction, exemplified by their rejection of peace opportunities in 2000 and 2008, not to mention the Gaza debacle – the Quartet would embolden Palestinians seeking to delegitimize the Jewish state.
Continued myopic diplomacy would offer Palestinian rejectionists hope that the war of 1948 may yet be won – not on the battlefield, but by exploiting enduring conflict to brand Israel a pariah state.
To make matters worse, the report, if it reads as expected, would further alienate the Israeli public. Most Israelis favor a two-state solution, but will not risk another Gaza and cannot support further territorial concessions unless Palestinians cease incitement and violence and, critically, accept the reality of Israel. There is little chance that the issues of borders and settlements can be resolved unless that happens.
For the sake of Palestinians and Israelis alike, the international community must remove its ideological blinders and confront the root cause of this conflict – Palestinian refusal to accept the Jewish state of Israel.
Beyond the Quartet’s essential task of “truth telling,” it should enlist the cooperation of the Gulf States and Israel’s treaty partners Egypt and Jordan to take courageous steps toward cooperation with Israel. Among other benefits to the region, this would send the crucial message to Palestinians that their aspirations for statehood can only be met by recognizing the reality of Israel, not by campaigning to deligitimize it. And it would demonstrate to Israelis that the international community can play a productive role in resolving the conflict, rather than exacerbating it.