Print
Region: Middle East
Type: Articles
Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article
Irina Zviagelskaya

Doctor of History, Head of Center for the Middle East Studies of the IMEMO, Professor of the Oriental Studies Department of the MGIMO University, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Institute of Oriental Studiesof the Russian Academy of Sciences, RIAC Expert

The quartet of international mediators brokering peaceful settlement of Israeli-Palestinian conflict has started to remind a fire brigade trying to rescue what is left to be rescued. The efficacy of its actions depends to a great extent on the shifts taking place both at global and regional levels. All the parameters of settlement have long been defined, the only remaining issue is how to induce the conflicting sides to find the way out of the stalemate – and this is the main stumbling block for the quartet.

There seem to be distant places in the
Divine world where all the times are transitional.

M.E. Saltykov-Schedrin.

The quartet of international mediators brokering peaceful settlement of Israeli-Palestinian conflict has started to remind a fire brigade trying to rescue what is left to be rescued. The efficacy of its actions depends to a great extent on the shifts taking place both at global and regional levels. All the parameters of settlement have long been defined, the only remaining issue is how to induce the conflicting sides to find the way out of the stalemate – and this is the main stumbling block for the quartet.

The quartet of international mediators (Russia, USA, EU, UN) was established at the end of 2001, and its legitimacy was reinforced by the UN SC resolution 1397 adopted March 12, 2002. Its main objective is to promote the settlement of Arab-Israeli conflict the underlying cause of which is a Palestinian problem – the realization of sovereign rights of Palestinian people to create its own state on Israel’s doorstep ( the principle of a ”two state solution”).

What preceded it?

The new international organization was brought to life by escalation of tension in the region and making the Palestinian problem into important factor of “Arab street” radicalization. As 9/11 demonstrated global extremist networks recruit henchmen taking advantage of profound Muslim discontent spawned by the Middle East conflict. It should be noted that international community rendered support to the first Arab compromise settlement plan (Arab Peace Initiative) proposed by hereditary Prince of Saudi Arabia Abdallah and adopted at the Arab summit in Beirut in April 2002. It indicated the readiness of all Arab states to normalize relations with Israel in exchange of its pullout from the occupied Arab territories to pre-1967 borders and other steps in the context of comprehensive conflict settlement.  

It’s not that simple

From the outset the quartet was faced with challenges. The views of its members were largely different, and the developments in the Middle East didn’t give a glimmer of hope for a breakthrough in peace talks. That said, on the credit side of this organization is the elaboration of a roadmap. It was officially presented to the leaders of Israel and Palestinian Authority on April 30, 2003.

The roadmap implied three stages of accords realization. At the first stage (before May 2003) it was proposed to get focused on putting an end to Palestinian uprising (intifada) and reforming Palestinian institutions, primarily security structures; to redeploy and withdraw Israeli forces from some Palestinian territories; to hold general elections; to freeze settlement-building, etc. At the second stage (from June to December 2003) it was meant to create a Palestinian state within provisional borders. At the third stage (2004-2005) there were to start Israeli-Palestinian eventual settlement negotiations to be completed in 2005.  

The roadmap, albeit with stipulations, was adopted by both sides; however it was never put into effect. In January 2006 radical Islamist party Hamas won the elections in Palestine after unilateral Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip. Hamas’s victory in the most secular society, which was the Palestinian one, as well as ideological, political and even territorial – Fatah in the West Bank, Hamas in Gaza Strip – divide in Palestinian movement left no room for the quest of political compromises. In the situation the Israeli leadership and society were even less than usual inclined to take painful decisions, such as withdrawal from the main part of territories and over the status of Jerusalem. Israelis responded with military operations to regular shelling of their territories from Gaza Strip. Simultaneously, the relations with Hizballah got strained what led to the second Lebanese war.

A Fire Brigade

All this testified to the fact that the quartet was apparently short of resources and ability to exert influence on the developments. In this connection in 2007 it was decided to step up work on the ground, in confrontation zone. Tony Blair was appointed to the post of special envoy of the quartet to the Middle East. He was assisted by a group of experts representing Russia, USA, UN and EU, with the seat in Jerusalem. Despite the intensification of activities, its efficacy largely depended on the shifts taking place both globally and regionally. US, which has the strongest positions and pursues serious interests in the region, to a great extent monopolized the settlement process.

Nonetheless, American attempts to make Palestinians and Israelis resume peace talks brought only temporary and insignificant results. With American forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, US policy on Palestinian issue not only failed to bring political dividends to the Bush Administration but also greatly overloaded its foreign policy agenda.

The situation changed when Democrat Barack Obama came to the White House. He was the embodiment of reforms and departure from Bush’s unilateralism and straightforwardness. The improvement of relations with the Muslim world was the key point on the new Administration’s foreign policy agenda. In this context balanced approach to Israeli- Palestinian relations obtained particular significance. That said, as it often used to be, political cycles in Israel and USA did not coincide. Despite a number of successful steps Obama was doomed to deal with the right-wing Israeli government, which didn’t feel like making concessions on core issues (settlement-building, developing of East Jerusalem, etc.). Israel put forward new conditions on which it could resume direct peace talks with Palestinians – to recognize it as a Jewish state.

When the Obama Administration shifted emphasis towards internal political problems and the election campaign the quartet again came to the fore. But it acted more and more like a fire brigade called upon rescuing what was left to be rescued. In the event, Russia tried to make its contribution by supporting the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Unfortunately, the general situation in the Middle East with ambiguous results of Arab revolutions didn’t provide fertile soil for the search of conflict solutions; instead it created high level of uncertainty. Although, according to some experts, there is, perhaps, the last chance left to settle the problem. It gets worse as it goes on.

The longer the day grows…

The application of Palestinian Authority for the membership of Palestinian state in the United Nations became an impetus for the group of international mediators to intensify its work. After the application was made the quartet adopted a resolution which urged Israelis and Palestinians to start preparatory negotiations on resumption of the dialogue without preconditions within one month time. The sides to the conflict expressed preparedness to maintain contacts with the quartet and put forward within three months time their proposals in the context of commitments to direct talks that could eventually lead to signing an agreement before the end of 2012.

Palestine’s membership in UNESCO is largely a symbolic act which does not abrogate talks.

Thus, the prospect of a new bout of negotiations has started to loom, and a new deadline was set. However, already now the sides have differences in understanding what should be viewed as preconditions and what should not. There are concerns that talks about talks could become a substitute of a peace process, with the quartet involved in them against its free will. Granting to Palestine the status of a permanent UNESCO-member was denounced by Israel and USA. The EU failed to elaborate a common position on this issue, and each EU member state voted on its own. Palestine’s membership in UNESCO is largely a symbolic act which does not abrogate talks. But it’s fraught with the emergence of new challenges due to difference of positions taken by the quartet members and tougher approach of Israel. The situation is far from auspicious but quite predictable. Basically, all the parameters of settlement have long been defined, and there is no need in devising new plans. The problem is how to prompt the sides to break the stalemate, and it’s here where the quartet is faced with major difficulties.

The solution of core problems of the conflict (borders, Jerusalem, refugees), which require the departure from radical positions, is perceived by the sides as unjustified concessions on the issues that have value importance for them. And although the quartet has a general concept of settlement contours the chances of a breakthrough can currently be assessed as very low, and this is the main, albeit inauspicious, conclusion to be made.

Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article

Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
 
For business
For researchers
For students