On 23 March, I received an email from Murad Bakri, the Strategic Communications and Public Information Officer at the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. Bakri was keen to let us all know that the “Middle East Quartet” is still in existence and is ready to resume its mediation for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The Envoys of the Middle East Quartet from the European Union, the Russian Federation, the United States, and the United Nations met virtually to discuss returning to meaningful negotiations that will lead to a two-state solution, including tangible steps to advance freedom, security, and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis, which is important in its own right,” said the official statement.
I remember the marathon meetings between the Quartet and Israeli and Palestinian officials between 2002, when it was established, and 2014 when the peace talks collapsed. During that period, the Quartet allegedly worked hard towards a two-state solution, which essentially meant the creation of a disarmed, rump Palestinian state with permanent borders alongside Israel.
Nothing was achieved in reality, and the Quartet issued its last statement on 22 July 2017. A year earlier, on 7 July 2016, it had issued a report which addressed the threats to the peace process and provided recommendations for advancing the two-state solution. The report blamed the Palestinians for continuing their violence represented in carrying out “acts of terrorism against the Israelis and incitement to violence.”
The report did not mention the thousands of Palestinians killed by the Israelis since the establishment of the Quartet (and, indeed, the creation of Israel itself) and Israel’s use of lethal force against Palestinian civilians. Nor did it mention the thousands of Palestinians enduring harsh conditions inside Israeli jails, including children, and the hundreds held for months and years with neither charge nor trial. Prior to its long hibernation, the Quartet said that Israel should stop settlement expansion and lift the restrictions imposed on the besieged Gaza Strip; it also blamed Israel for the lack of proper development in the occupied territories.
Although the Quartet highlighted Covid-19 to justify its own resurrection, I believe that the real reason is to act on behalf of Israel and the US to sabotage Palestinian democracy, which has been its main purpose since it was established. Italian political scientist and international relations expert specialising in the role of the European Union in international affairs and peacekeeping, Nathalie Tocci, said in a study issued in 2011, “All the Quartet initiatives… were reactions to US and Israeli impulses.”
The Quartet was created as the second Palestinian Intifada — popular uprising against Israel’s occupation — was getting fiercer. The group marketed the US “roadmap to peace” in an effort to engage the Palestinians in peace talks and turn their back on their right to resistance legitimised by international laws and conventions. It was clear that the Quartet was nothing more than Washington’s tool to serve Israel; an elaborate club with which to hit Israel’s foes.
“Alas, the [Quartet’s] activities have reflected either the EU’s unsuccessful attempts to frame American initiatives within a multilateral setting or the US’s successful attempts at providing a multilateral cover for unilateral actions,” explained Tocci. This made the Quartet’s role clear.
We can say with conviction that the US positions on Palestine typically reflect Israel’s positions. Take, for example, Washington’s stance towards Hamas, the largest Palestinian faction. In its report updated last month, the Congressional Research Service said: “The United States has historically sought to bolster PLO Chairman and PA President Mahmoud Abbas vis-à-vis Hamas.” The report stated that following the 2006 parliamentary elections won by Hamas, “Israel, the United States and others in the international community have sought to neutralise or marginalise Hamas.” Based on Tocci’s findings, the Quartet must have adopted these views, and this really happened.
Hugh Lovatt of the European Council on Foreign Relations said last month that the EU and US were initially strong advocates of Palestinian democracy, and were a driving force behind the last Palestinian parliamentary elections held in 2006, urging Hamas and Fatah to engage constructively in the process. “The EU and the US proved less comfortable when the democratic outcome went against their interests following Hamas’s victory,” he added.
“By all accounts, the 2006 elections were free and fair,” Lovatt pointed out, and the EU described the election as an “important milestone in the building of democratic institutions.” The EU also said that, “These elections saw impressive voter participation in an open and fairly-contested electoral process that was efficiently administered by a professional and independent Palestinian Central Elections Commission.”
However, Lovatt noted, “Having expected elections to further empower Abbas and Fatah, the US responded to Hamas’s electoral win in a knee-jerk fashion — quickly pushing for international isolation of, and pressure on, the Haniyeh [Hamas] government.” The US carried out its policy through the Quartet’s conditions imposed on the Palestinians.
According to Tocci, “Immediately after Hamas’ landslide electoral victory, on 30 January, the Quartet reaffirmed its position.” A statement issued following the movement’s victory in 2006 said that “It is the view of the Quartet that all members of a future Palestinian government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreement and obligations.”
These are actually the US conditions for a permanent solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These conditions fuelled the internal Palestinian conflict that caused an internal division in 2007 which is ongoing. Lovatt described what happened: “Hamas forces ejected Fatah-controlled PA security forces from the Gaza Strip — pre-empting Fatah’s own reported US-supported plan to topple Hamas.” In other words, a US-backed coup.
With the Palestinians heading for a long-overdue legislative election next month, the US and Israel have resurrected the Quartet to stand against a potential Hamas victory. “The historical memory of Hamas’s surprise victory in the last PA elections to be held — the legislative elections of 2006 — is likely to influence the various parties’ calculations… The Administration is proceeding cautiously regarding PA elections, in light of the 2006 elections’ aftermath,” the US Congressional Research Service said in its report.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi have clearly shared their concerns about Hamas’s potential victory in the upcoming Palestinian election. The Department of State has regurgitated the Quartet’s condition that whoever takes part in any Palestinian elections “must renounce violence, recognise Israel and respect previous deals.”
It is fairly obvious, therefore, that the Middle East Quartet’s claim that it is ready to return to “meaningful negotiations” is simply a precursor to a replay of the same game it played in the aftermath of the 2006 Palestinian election. It undermined Palestinian democracy and the electoral choice of the people then and is ready to do the same again.