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Whats new under the quartets sun?

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By Dr. Ahmed Yousef

(source: Union Emirates newspaper)

A lot of attention was given in the media to the recent statement by the Quartet which condemned Israel’s illegal settlement activities. Not so much time was given to a serious analysis of this and previous Quarter statements to evaluate what the latest actually means. Interpretations poured in of what effects this "unprecedented" statement might have inside Israel. Some analysts believed that this would have a negative effect on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position, as if we had not experienced a similar situation during his first term of office in 1996.

The Quartet was formed after the George W Bush administration proposed the "road map" towards peace in 2002; it reflected Bush’s success in making the world powers accept his view of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Representatives from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations make up the Quartet, whose "peace envoy" is Britain’s Tony Blair, who many anti-war activists and lawyers believe should be indicted for war crimes. The group’s record shows no real achievements, which raises doubts about its role and performance.

Statements from the Quartet need to be considered against their effectiveness. Unlike the Arab world, which has no leverage over Israel, the Quartet powers have the tools to influence the Jewish state. A close reading of the statements brings forth many examples that the Quartet "welcomes… expresses its appreciation… urges… emphasizes… calls for… appeals… reminds… expresses concern… notes and condemns"; all very fine sentiments, but meaningless unless backed-up by change on the Israeli side. Sadly, such change is the missing element. A major observation about the Quartet is that it basically regards the occupier and the occupied as equals. Comments on Palestinian actions, good or bad, are always "balanced" with similar remarks about Israeli actions. In a statement on 20 September 2005, the Quartet recognized the Palestinian Authority decision to condemn violence, while welcoming the political courage of Ariel Sharon. When it condemned the separation wall on 30 January 2006, the Quartet felt compelled to remind the new Palestinian government of the importance of renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and accepting previous agreements and obligations. In March 2007, the Quartet expressed its concern regarding the continued closure of Gaza's crossings and noted its "great" concern regarding the continued firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza. When the Quartet expressed "deep concern" about continued Israeli settlement activity and called for a freeze, this criticism of Israel was balanced by the "good" steps represented by the removal of some of the main Israeli checkpoints and opening of a number of police stations in area 'B', as if illegal activity can be cancelled out by "good" acts. Even condemnation of increased settler violence against Palestinians had to be issued with condemnation of "terrorist acts" against Israelis, including rocket fire. Thus, the sting of any condemnation is always eased and the context of the conflict – that of legitimate resistance against an illegal military occupation – is missing. The casual reader is left to consider that the sides have equal military capabilities and political power. On many occasions the Quartet does not even try to disguise its biased position, such as the repeated calls for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit held in Gaza without any mention of the thousands of Palestinian men, women and children – so-called political detainees   held in Israel prisons. The latest Quartet statement, we are told, includes "condemnation" of Israel's sttlement activities, whereas the statement actually "condemns the decision of the Israeli government to push forward the establishment of new housing units in East Jerusalem". Only the "new" development is condemned, not all settlements. That condemnation aside, the statement is a "good" example of almost all Quartet statements which monitor developments, welcome indirect negotiations, stress previous positions of the group regarding ending the 1967 occupation, and support the two-state solution. In doing all of these, the Quartet treats the two sides – occupier and occupied   equally when it calls for both Israel and the Palestinians to act on the basis of international law and their previous commitments, reiterating again that unilateral actions taken by "any" of the sides should not prejudice the outcome of negotiations in advance. Both are also told to "exercise restraint" and not make provocative statements that incite the people. The PA are always told to improve law and order, combat extremism and end incitement (even though the apparatus for doing so has often been destroyed by the Israelis!) and concern is expressed about the conditions in Gaza; all of this with the proviso that puts Israel's "legitimate security concerns" uppermost on the agenda. The Quartet members seem to be incapable of understanding that the most effective way to provide for Israel's security is to end the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. In the light of all of this, does anything done or said by the Quartet warrant such media exposure? Or is it the destiny of the Palestinians and Arabs to be unwitting actors in this charade which has surely been created purely to taunt and annoy us?