The Quartet has no future

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I recently attended a prestigious and private event in Jerusalem where one of Israel’s most important historians was lecturing on the country’s relations with Europe. I found his message astounding. He asserted that Christian Europe would never be able to acquiesce in the fact that the Jewish people have their own sovereign country. The reason: the rejection of Jesus Christ by the Jewish people–something Europe could never forgive. The European claim, stated the important historian, is not against the Jews at the personal level, but rather against the sovereignty they have achieved as a people.

These words were not spoken in a vacuum. In Israel there is a broad popular sense that Europe hates us. It was recently revalidated when the government of Israel decided in effect to reject the Quartet, one of whose four pillars is European, as the implementer and monitor of the roadmap.

No doubt one of the more obvious current deviations from the route charted by the roadmap is the fact that it is the United States alone, and not the entire Quartet, that is administering the roadmap and has assigned itself to monitor performance. The Aqaba summit of June 4, 2003 was virtually the private summit of President George W. Bush; the monitoring team installed in Jerusalem is led by American Ambassador John Wolf. Europe and the United Nations play a negligible role, if at all.

The more observant among us certainly must have noticed that in his speeches the prime minister of Israel ebulliently thanks the US, and only the US, for its contribution to the peace process, while Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas repeatedly thanks Europe and the UN for “their important involvement.” This is undoubtedly faithful testimony as to the real preference of both sides.

Despite the fact that the roadmap is the creation of the entire Quartet, the meager chance that Europe and the UN will supervise its implementation and monitor the sides’ performance is amazingly similar to the low likelihood that they will be significantly involved in the rebuilding of Iraq. There are two reasons for this: In Israel there is a sense that the Palestinian intifada has been defeated, and in the US a sense of victory over Saddam Hussein’s regime–despite the best efforts of the European opposition. These battlefield achievements have generated a sensation of security and superiority among the two actors, coupled with the aspiration to translate their military gains into achievements at the political-strategic level.

In the Arab world, in contrast, there is a sense of inferiority and self-deprecation. The upshot is that the American-Israeli axis has the upper hand in determining the parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

There are of course additional reasons for the European-UN weakness as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians:

The US has recently succeeded in establishing itself as an honest broker between Israeli Prime Ministers Sharon and Abbas, in complete contrast to the situation that prevailed when Yasir Arafat was the sole Palestinian leader.

Europe is split over several Middle East political issues, from the war in Iraq and its consequences to its position regarding Arafat. The decision by the current president of the EU, Italy’s Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi, to ignore Arafat in the course of his recent visit to Israel, seriously divides Europe over an issue considered critical to the peace process.

The UN for its part has not succeeded in improving its image in Israel despite Kofi Annan’s successful tenure as secretary-general. Scars from the recent past, such as the obstacles placed in the path of the US in its effort to remove Saddam Hussein, the issue of Israel’s MIAs in Lebanon, and the slanted behavior of the UN representative in the West Bank and Gaza, Terje Roed-Larsen, all exacerbated the situation.

Based on this analysis, we can conclude that the unique and special attempt to create a global umbrella for the Middle East peace process is on the verge of abject failure. If indeed there is going to be peace, it looks like it will once again be the United States, as in the case of the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, that leads the Israelis and the Palestinians to the altar.

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