Can Mideast Quartet entice Palestinians to drop plan for UN vote on statehood?

The Middle East Quartet, the diplomatic powers focused on encouraging the peace process, is set to meet in Washington Monday with the aim of paving the way for a relaunch of long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Prompting the unusual midsummer meeting of the four powers – the United States, European Union, Russia, and the United Nations – is no sudden uptick in violence, and certainly no signs that the two sides are itching to get back to the negotiating table, which has sat unused since last September.

Instead, the impetus is the Palestinian plan to seek a vote by the UN General Assembly in September recognizing the state of Palestine.

Fearing that such a move would divide the international community at a particularly sensitive moment in the Arab world, and could ultimately feed a return to violence, the Quartet wants to set acceptable terms for both sides to resume peace talks in the coming weeks.

The idea is that a return to direct talks broadly following an outline set by President Obama in his May speech on the Middle East would allow the Palestinians to back down from their insistence on a statehood vote.

But even though Monday’s talks will feature the Quartet’s power players – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will host the meeting – arriving at a restart of peace negotiations is anything but assured.

“The challenge now facing the Quartet is twofold,” says Khaled Elgindy, a visiting fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington. The first hurdle will be reaching a “genuine consensus” among the US, EU, UN, and Russia on a statement capable of initiating “a meaningful negotiation process between Israelis and Palestinians.”

But even if the Quartet can do that, the looming second uncertainty is “whether anything they say will be sufficient to convince the Palestinians not to go ahead with the UN vote,” says Mr. Elgindy, who is a former member of the Palestinian negotiating support team.

The Palestinians say they would return to the table (and they hint they could shelve the September statehood bid) if talks on borders are based on the pre-1967 lines – as outlined in Mr. Obama’s speech – and if Israel declares a new settlement freeze.

Yet while Israeli officials say they have been in talks with US officials on acceptable terms for relaunching negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintains the 1967 lines would leave Israel with “indefensible” borders – and he has shown no willingness to renew a settlement freeze.

At the same time, he says declaration of a Palestinian state and its symbolic recognition by the UN General Assembly would poison the peace process for “decades.”

But for some Middle East analysts – given that both Israelis and Palestinians say they want a return to talks – finding language for a statement that both sides could sign onto may be the easy part for the Quartet.

The real danger is a Quartet effort that succeeds in relaunching talks for talks’ sake, but which lacks any hope of paving the way for meaningful and sustained negotiations, says Aaron David Miller, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington.

“The prospects of getting a Quartet statement that the two sides can buy into are actually much better than they were just a short while ago, but the real question here is whether there is anything that can lead to serious and sustained negotiations,” says Mr. Miller. “Where it begins to enter the danger zone is when you raise expectations once again – even though the chances of something real and sustained aren’t there.”

Miller, who served as an adviser to six secretaries of state on the Middle East peace process, says the worst thing now would be one more high-profile ceremony where the US president brings the Israeli and Palestinian leaders together on a stage to launch talks. “It’s the kind of scene we’ve had six or seven times in the last decade or so,” he says – only to have it all collapse within weeks or even days.

The Brookings Institution’s Elgindy agrees, saying the issue is not more negotiations, but actually getting to a solution.

“The problem … is not in getting the parties to the negotiating table – which has occurred off-and-on for nearly 20 years – but in getting them out of negotiations once they start and into a process that might actually lead to an end of the conflict,” he says. “Thus far, neither the US nor the Quartet has put forth a plan that has any reasonable chance of achieving that goal.”

The best option Miller sees is what he calls the “iceberg” plan, where very little of a relaunched process would be visible, but where most of the action would be “below the water line” – discreet negotiations between the two parties with parallel American participation and support.

Miller says he envisions a negotiating period of perhaps six months, during which time all sides would agree not to “grandstand,” or run out to microphones to make political points.

The problem is that such a plan is unlikely to be enough to dissuade the Palestinians from pursuing the UN option in September, as Miller admits. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said enough times to convince most analysts that it will take significant concessions from Mr. Netanyahu – something virtually no one sees forthcoming.

And while even the pro-Palestinian Elgindy says September will only produce “a largely symbolic vote at the UN,” he adds that blame for that falls on the US and the international community, which have failed to resolve the conflict.

The Palestinian decision to go to the UN, he says, “is not the cause of the current crisis but rather a symptom.”

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/11/2011 - 02:27 pm.

    The meddling completely pro-Israel Quartet should not be allowed anywhere near the Middle East. What it has done is to try to make the Palestinians give up their dream of returning to their own homeland or even to become a self-governing separate state.

    When Hamas was elected by Gaza’s people to manage its government, the Quartet immediately decided that Hamas was “dangerous” or “unworthy” or whatever and forced the Palestinians to accept its declaration that Hamas must not be allowed to accept the trust Gaza’s citizens had voted to place in it.

    The UN’s General Secretary later apologized for having taken part in this action by the Quartet. Did anyone actually ask the Quartet to mess in this issue again or did they appoint themselves? Did the UN approve it?

  2. Submitted by Jonathan Johnson on 08/27/2011 - 11:05 am.

    The only solution for a lasting peace is absolute democratic process (that we Americans cherish so passionately) for the entire territory in question, otherwise, the peace will not last. All people who lived there without regard to religion, race, etc. should vote on how they would like their one country to be run. I favor one state solution because two states would only attempt to “legalize” Zionist occupation that will be remembered in history until it is corrected by future large scale conflicts, so no lasting peace will result. The only issue with the fair democratic process is what to do with all manipulated Jewish people who the Zionist regime imported for decades to increase the Jewish population from around 100,000 to over 5 Million since the start of the occupation. This is obviously an attempt to unjustly manipulate any future democratic process by forcefully increasing the occupier’s population at the expense of others. Any compromise other than the absolute fair democratic process with no manipulated population will be temporary with terrible conflicts looming to correct it in the future.

    The truth is that the Zionist regime will not accept any democratic process even if the manipulated Jewish population is included because it cannot exist as a democratic country as Zionists will be outvoted by all others who live there (Zionists were in an infinite minority before the occupation). The Zionist regime can only temporarily exist through the force of its arms as a one people country where only select ones can vote and where different laws apply to different people.
    The world must stand up against the Zionist regime by cutting all diplomatic and economic relations with it. Many countries have already stopped all relations with the Zionist regime and others are in the process of doing the same. We Americans need to completely distance ourselves from this oppressive regime through urging our state representatives and senators to do what the rest of the world is doing.

  3. Submitted by Brandon Newton on 08/27/2011 - 11:54 am.

    If it is ever reached, the current and any other artificial “peace agreement” will be illegitimate before it is ever signed because (1) all people living in Palestine regardless of religion, race, origin, etc. (hereinafter “All People of Palestine”) were never given a choice on how they want their land to be governed, and (2) all contracts signed under duress are null and void.

    The biggest problem in Palestine is that the Zionist regime never offered a choice to All People of Palestine on how they want to govern their land because the Zionist regime cannot exist as a democratic entity. If there was ever any democratic process in Palestine, Zionists would have been outvoted and the Zionist regime would have never existed. That is why the Zionist regime is the occupier because it does not offer choice (i.e. democracy), but instead imposes its regime (i.e. occupies). Imagine if Russians would simply occupy a town in the U.S. where they are in significant numbers and attempt to create a Russian state there without giving the rest of the Americans living there a choice. Imagine then if they would try to institute a “peace agreement” that would attempt to legitimize their occupation. The “peace agreement” would logically and legally be illegitimate because the Americans were not given a choice.

    Under all countries’ laws, any contract is null and void if it is signed under duress. The current Palestine “peace agreement” process reminds me of The Godfather movie where the mafia boss (i.e. the Zionist regime) made a guy “an offer he could not refuse” by placing a gun (i.e. Zionist conventional and nuclear arsenal) to his head and making him sign the contract. Like the mafia boss’ offer, any “peace agreement” other than the choice for All People of Palestine is a crime, and the contract is legally null and void.

    The bottom line is that All People of Palestine never wanted to divide their land into artificial two states the way the occupation and this “peace agreement” attempt to divide it. From the beginning of the Zionist regime to its unavoidable end, All People of Palestine and the region never wanted the Zionist regime and they do not want it even more after all the atrocities the Zionist regime committed. I just cannot believe how the Zionist regime can be so ignorant to think that this or any other “peace agreement” that does not allow people to choose how they want to be governed will last and ensure its people’s survival. The Zionist regime fails to realize that no matter if it succeeds in muscling this “peace agreement” by unspeakable historic coercion tens of millions of moral people around the world will oppose it until it is corrected, and until justice and free choice prevail. Also, ever increasing number of Jewish people are realizing that Zionism is becoming a destructive force for them and are leading the global resistance to it.
    Feel free to copy this comment, email it to other bloggers, and repost it on other blogs, newspaper websites, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking websites, and include it in any correspondence/lobbying with senators, state representatives and any other public officials so the public learns the truth…

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