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Dr Musa A Keilani: Decision in the doldrums
July 19, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The international Quartet has proved itself to be ineffective in its mandate to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace. The Quartet, made up of the US, the UN, the European Union and Russia, could not get out of its own trap when the group met in Washington this month.

It was expected to give a new impetus to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, but the four could not even come up with a joint statement. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, in comments to reporters after the meeting, appealed to Israel and Palestinians to resume peace negotiations, but they could not set a baseline except calling for a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem.

Obviously, the Quartet meeting failed to agree on such a baseline and that was the reason for the absence of a joint statement. Setting a baseline would have forced Israel’s hand by setting the shape of a peace agreement on terms rejected by the Jewish state, including a recommendation that the negotiations should be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 war subject to mutually agreed territorial swaps.

The European Union and Russia would gladly affirm their support for that position, and the UN would go along with it. After all, according to UN decisions and international law, the 1967 borders should indeed be the starting point for peace negotiations and the Quartet would have been only reaffirming it. But the US, whose president, Barack Obama, who recently said it was official US policy that negotiations should be based on the 1967 borders but with room for land swaps, held back the Quartet.

The Quartet could not also agree on how to deal with the Palestinian quest for UN recognition of statehood. The US is opposed to the move, and members of the European Union do not have a common position on the issue. Some EU members have said they are in favour of the Palestinian move while others have argued against it saying a solution should be produced only through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. That leaves the Palestinians nowhere.

Short of a miracle, they could expect the US to veto their statehood if the issue reaches the UN Security Council. Of course, they have the option to go to the General Assembly first and seek an overwhelming endorsement of their statehood based on the 1967 borders. That would force the US to make clear its position.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has pledged to go ahead with the bid for UN recognition with Arab backing. With the failure of the Quartet to help revive peace talks, there is no option left to him.

In the meantime, he also has to abide by the agreement by all Palestinian factions to settle all differences and form a national unity government including Hamas. Israel is sticking by its warning that it would not deal with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas.

Abbas should not worry about the Israeli stand since he could not hope to make any realistic progress towards a peace agreement without a collective Palestinian position behind him. Furthermore, there is no prospect of a fair and just peace agreement with or without a collective Palestinian position. That is what we understand from the Israeli position.

Hamas should also be ready to make amends to its position and be explicit in its position that it is ready to accept a solution based on the 1967 borders. Hamas leaders have said that they are ready to do so, but it has not been made official because of Israel’s affirmation that it would dictate the terms of any agreement with the Palestinians.

Abbas should be working on both fronts: Ensure that he would have an overwhelming support in the UN General Assembly when he takes the issue of statehood there and work on whatever differences he has with Hamas and form a new government.

In the meantime, the Quartet has been caught with its failures visible. It is difficult to see the group providing the help necessary for negotiations for a fair and just settlement of the Palestinian problem. The European Union, which generally favours the Palestinian effort for independent statehood, should come up with a stronger position against the US domination of the political process.

However, it is difficult to see the bloc’s members agreeing with each other on this issue, given Washington’s clout and pressure. But that should not pre-empt independent thinking of EU member countries. The Europeans know too well that they would also have severe restrictions on their options in the Middle East as long as the Palestinian problem remains unsolved. They should act to protect their own interests.

The Arab World faces the responsibility of offering continued help to the Palestinians. It is evident that Washington would suspend its financial assistance to the Palestinians National Authority (PNA) — or attach conditions to the aid — if Hamas becomes part of a new Palestinian government. As such, the Arab World should provide the aid necessary for the PNA to function and shoulder its task of managing Palestinian affairs.

Jordan, with its large demographic component of refugees and Gazans is directly concerned about the outcome of a new emerging Palestinian state and its multi-layered regional ramifications: economically, politically, financially and monetary.
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The author, a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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