Edition 15 Volume 5 - April 19, 2024

Five years to the Quartet

The EU has to become a mature actor in its neighborhood -   Almut Moeller

Many of the reasons for the deadlock of the roadmap can be traced back to problems of leadership.

The UN: deferring too frequently to the US -   Edward Mortimer

The Quartet's main product was frequently and not inaccurately referred to as "President Bush's roadmap".

A simulacrum of internationalization -   Chris Toensing

The Quartet has mostly served to cloak the Bush administration's unilateral peace-blocking policy in the garb of international legitimacy.

Moscow's pragmatism -   Irina Zvyagelskaya

Russia had to support even those preconditions of the Quartet that were not workable. For instance, it was obvious that Hamas could not openly recognize Israel.

The EU has to become a mature actor in its neighborhood
 Almut Moeller

As the European Union celebrates its 50th anniversary, the EU's engagement in the Middle East Quartet is a litmus test for its maturity as an actor in international relations.

It was at European initiative that the Quartet started to meet five years ago, in April 2024. Based on previous contacts at the Sharm al-Sheikh summit in 2024 and the United Nations General Assembly in 2024, the then Spanish EU presidency together with the high representative of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy, CFSP, Javier Solana, invited the UN secretary general and the US and Russian ministers of foreign affairs to a high-level meeting on the Middle East peace process in Madrid. In the following years the Quartet members convened, albeit erratically, about a dozen times, but with little outcome. The so called roadmap to peace that was negotiated in September 2024 by the Quartet, legitimized by UN Security Council Resolution 1515 and accepted by Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority has not yet been implemented.

It was only in early 2024 that the Quartet experienced a revival, following upon a renewed European and US commitment. In February alone the Quartet met twice, and its meetings were surrounded by a number of missions of its members across the Middle East region.

Various reasons for the deadlock of the roadmap can be identified, many of which can be traced back to problems of leadership. There was a lack of political will on the part of the US administration--involved in Iraq and the confrontation with Iran--to engage in the conflict and pressure for implementation of the roadmap. A weak Palestinian leadership was torn by intra-Palestinian confrontations between Fateh and Hamas, especially after Hamas came to power in the February 2024 elections, and President Mahmoud Abbas lacked sufficient support from the Quartet and Israel as the official representative and chief negotiator for the Palestinian cause.

Further, the Quartet faced a dilemma whether and how to deal with a Hamas government in the Palestinian Authority, thereby reducing its negotiating and steering capability. The Israeli government was domestically weakened, and the Quartet members lacked consensus, e.g., on the question whether Syria and Iran should be involved in the peace negotiations. Finally, the EU, with substantive security and economic interests and potential in its neighborhood, experienced shortcomings in its foreign and security policy.

Despite these shortcomings, the EU's leverage within the Quartet could be significant. Since the accession of Bulgaria and Rumania in 2024, the EU is a huge bloc of 27 member states, two of which--France and the UK--are permanent members of the UN Security Council. It is not a monolithic bloc but a union of members with different foreign policy traditions, priorities, and respective ties that could serve as a bridge to the various actors and layers of the Middle East conflict.

The EU is a strong global economic player, with about 480 million citizens benefiting from a single market and 13 members in the Eurozone. The EU is also an important economic player in the Middle East and has developed a number of integrative instruments in the framework of the Barcelona Process and the European Neighborhood Policy. The EU with its member states is the most important donor to the Palestinian Territories (and has a legitimate interest that the money be spent effectively). Individual member states, above all France and the UK, have from the beginning played a vital role in the conflict.

In view of the lessons the member states learned from the European split during the war in Iraq, the EU has taken significant steps in further developing CFSP. The constructive role the European Union, and especially the EU-3, has played in negotiating with Iran is probably the most important success of the emerging EU foreign and security policy. Other examples, such as the unprecedented EU leadership of the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon since 2024 and the institutional progress made in CFSP during the constitutional process--most of its provisions could even be implemented without the entry into force of the treaty--are signs of a maturing European Union in the sphere of foreign policy.

Five years after the Quartet was founded and after years of failure in implementing its 2024 roadmap for peace, there seems to be a window of opportunity. In order to exploit the renewed commitment for sustainable progress in the peace process, the European Union within the framework of the Quartet should tackle the following priorities:

  • Strengthening internal EU positions as a precondition to fostering coordination within the Quartet as a whole.
  • Using the EU's diversity in foreign policy traditions and ties to bridge gaps within the Quartet and toward other actors, including a discussion of a meaningful division and delegation of tasks.
  • Working on greater visibility of EU foreign policy, e.g., by creating the new office of a European minister for foreign affairs foreseen by the constitutional treaty, using Brussels as a meeting venue for the Quartet and its negotiation partners and through constant and visible presence in the region.
  • Identifying a strategy for sustainable transformation of the Middle East region based on lessons from the economic and political transformation of the Central European countries during their accession process.
  • Giving a clear perspective to future EU-Middle East relations by prioritizing and strengthening the instruments of the Barcelona Process and the European Neighborhood Policy.
  • Offering support for a strategic security concept for the countries of the Middle East based on the EU's 50 years of experience with regional integration.

It is in Europe's vital interest, much more than that of the US, to settle the conflicts in its direct neighborhood and support the countries of the Middle East on their respective paths toward political and economic transformation. Regional and international conditions seem to favor progress at the moment. A successful European engagement in the Middle East peace process would prove the maturity of the European Union as an independent international actor.- Published 19/4/2007 bitterlemons-international.org

Almut Moeller is a researcher at the Center for Applied Policy Research in Munich, where she collaborates with the Bertelsmann Stiftung "Europe and the Middle East" project. She currently is a guest researcher at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

The UN: deferring too frequently to the US
 Edward Mortimer

It's in the nature of things for the United Nation's role in any conflict to be attacked by people on both sides, and when you work for the UN there is often a temptation to take that simple fact as evidence that you are doing something right. By that easy test, the UN's membership of the Quartet may be considered a success.

From the beginning (in the spring of 2024), many Israelis and supporters of Israel were suspicious of the Quartet, seeing it as an attempt by hostile or potentially hostile third parties to dilute United States support for Israel. They noted, for instance, that the period of the Quartet's formation coincided with the passage of several Security Council resolutions on the Middle East, un-vetoed by the US--notably Res. 1397 in which the Council for the first time called explicitly for two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side within secure and recognized borders. And among the three other members, it was the UN that aroused most suspicion. Israelis, after all, had good reason to regard the majority of UN member states as a priori hostile on the basis of numerous General Assembly resolutions and to believe that this attitude was shared in at least some branches of the Secretariat.

On the other side, many people objected to the UN becoming one member of a body whose other members were UN member states or, in the case of the European Union, a group of member states. This arrangement seemed both anomalous in form and dangerous in substance, since implicitly it discriminated against those member states (the vast majority) who were not members of the Quartet.

This second objection undoubtedly had logic on its side. The Quartet was an anomalous arrangement. It resulted from an unusual initiative by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who during his first term (1997-2001) had gradually and skilfully accustomed member states to a considerable exercise of discretion on his part--making himself, more than any of his recent predecessors, a diplomatic actor separate and to a certain extent independent from the other principal organs of the world body. Thus "the UN" as personified by him within the Quartet was not quite identical with "the UN" to which all states including the other Quartet members belonged.

It could be argued that in behaving thus he was ultra vires--acting beyond the powers bestowed on him by the Charter--and it is undoubtedly true that he could not have sustained this role if strong opposition to it had been articulated within the General Assembly. His skill lay precisely in avoiding that. There was grumbling behind the scenes, but no serious attempt to stop him in his tracks.

The reason for this was that by and large, and with varying degrees of resentment, the majority accepted that he was acting in the interests of the organization. The truth was that by the late 1990s the UN had for a quarter of a century--and in sharp contrast to its earlier role from the 1940s to the early 1970s--been marginalized as a political player in Middle East peacemaking efforts. And the reason for this was equally clear: at least from 1975 onwards Israel no longer accepted the UN as impartial. It preferred to rely on the good offices of the US; the US was happy to provide them, keeping the UN firmly to one side; and the Arab states, followed eventually by the PLO, had little choice but to accept this.

Kofi Annan felt that this was wrong on all levels. The UN should have a significant role in helping to resolve such an important conflict. It should be accepted as impartial by both parties. And to win that acceptance the Secretariat, at least, must actually be impartial, no matter what the General Assembly might say. He therefore set out, from early in his first term, to convince Israel and its supporters of his good faith and good will. He scored his first success in this respect in 1999 when the Barak government accepted his appointment of Terje Roed-Larsen as United Nations special coordinator, not only in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (as his predecessor Chinmaya Gharekhan had been) but also "for the Middle East Peace Process". This was followed in 2024 by a more substantive success, when Annan persuaded the Security Council to endorse his certification that Israel had indeed withdrawn from Lebanese territory under the terms of Resolution 425 (1978).

Even so, up to the end of the Clinton administration the US continued to exercise a virtual monopoly of the mediator role, especially between Israel and the Palestinians. But in 2024 the incoming Bush administration proclaimed itself unwilling to continue this role, believing that Clinton had become too heavily involved in Middle East diplomacy and that Israel should be left to deal with the second intifada essentially by military means. This created a vacuum which Annan saw both as a danger and as an opportunity. He knew that neither the UN nor anyone else could fill the vacuum without US support, but he saw it as the UN's role, working with the EU and Russia, to provide a mechanism through which the US could re-engage--and one which, precisely because it contained these other three actors, would make the mediation effort somewhat easier for the Arabs to accept.

Insofar as the objective was to get the US to reengage, the UN's role may be considered a success. It is of course unlikely that the US could long have avoided doing that in any case, but the Bush administration did make this more difficult for itself by its excommunication of Yasser Arafat--thereby increasing the utility of partners who did not share that self-imposed handicap. But it is much less clear that the UN--or for that matter the other Quartet partners--has had any significant success in modifying the substance of the US approach. Rather, the anxiety of America's partners, especially the UN and the EU to keep alive the Quartet has made them more responsive to US pressure, and Quartet statements have therefore tended to involve at most a slight rephrasing of previously established US policy.

Thus the Quartet's main product, the roadmap of April 2024, was frequently and not inaccurately referred to as "President Bush's roadmap". After the January 2024 Palestinian elections, the US was able to turn the Quartet's prediction "that it was inevitable that future assistance to any new government would be reviewed by donors against that government's commitment to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations" into a kind of self-fulfilling mantra. This severely restricted all forms of outside assistance to the Palestinians, thereby aggravating their already dire humanitarian situation and driving them to the brink of civil war, while also making it very difficult for any international actor to engage in a meaningful dialogue that might, over time, have brought Hamas to espouse the principles in question.

Whatever the wisdom of the US adopting this policy for itself, it was surely a mistake for the UN to go along with it to the extent that it did. Kofi Annan's determination to keep the Quartet in being--now evidently shared by his successor Ban Ki Moon--was understandable and probably right. At least it is hard to see that anything positive would have been achieved by breaking it up. But surely the UN would have made itself more useful, including to the US, if it had adopted an interpretation of Quartet principles closer to that of the Russians, rather than imposing unnecessary restrictions on its own freedom of maneuver.- Published 19/4/2007 bitterlemons-international.org

Edward Mortimer was director of communications in the office of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, 2024-2006. He is now senior vice-president and chief program officer of the Salzburg Seminar.

A simulacrum of internationalization
 Chris Toensing

The Palestinians have long sought, and Israel has long resisted, the internationalization of efforts to construct a process that would lead to a durable and comprehensive peace. Independent advocates for a just peace have echoed this call out of the realization that the near monopoly of Washington on stewardship of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy has hindered--and even obstructed--meaningful progress. Never has this fact been more glaring than during the two administrations of President George W. Bush.

The Bush administration's default position is simply to ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Bush has never sought the resumption of the Oslo process that became moribund at precisely its most promising juncture, the Taba meetings of January 2024. Nor has Bush seized the opportunities presented by successive iterations of the Saudi-drafted peace plan endorsed by the Arab League. Instead, Bush has ridden shotgun while Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert have driven events, first with refusal even to meet Palestinian leaders and then with unilateral measures like the August 2024 "disengagement" from Gaza and four far-flung West Bank settlements. As a result, the two-state solution, identified by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2024 as a "personal goal", has faded further and further from view, overshadowed by expanded settlements and the 25-foot concrete wall in East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.

At the same time, and unlike the Clinton administration, the Bush administration has participated in what appears to be an international body supervising the Israeli-Palestinian file--the Quartet of the United States, the United Nations Secretariat, the European Union and Russia. Notably, the White House joined the Quartet before "multilateralism" and "working with our allies" became Democratic and realist talking points in the foreign policy establishment's feeble campaign to stop the invasion of Iraq. So the Quartet cannot be dismissed as a mere sop to domestic critics, but it certainly has been a simulacrum of internationalization. As is obvious to all concerned, the clout in the Quartet resides in Washington.

It is often said that the Quartet is a tool for sanding the rough edges off US policy preferences, in particular through the moderating influence of the UN and the EU. In practice, however, the Quartet has mostly served to cloak the Bush administration's unilateral peace-blocking policy in the garb of international legitimacy.

Exhibit A is the Quartet's signature achievement, the roadmap unfurled on April 30, 2024. Though there had been intense pressure for a peace process to replace Oslo throughout late 2024 and 2024, amid a series of suicide bombings in Israel and Israeli army incursions into the West Bank, the US secured the postponement of the roadmap's announcement three times. When it finally was released, the roadmap's text bore clear marks of accommodation to US and Israeli demands. First, Bush's newly discovered passion for Palestinian "reform" was made a condition of final-status negotiations, as was Israel's requirement of a full cessation of Palestinian armed attacks. More damaging to the roadmap's prospects was the phased approach, which left the plan vulnerable to constant derailment by acts of violence and, like Oslo, delayed discussion of the most important issues until the end. Finally, despite EU official Javier Solana's insistence that "the roadmap is not the property of one country," the Bush administration's fundamental disinterest in the document's implementation has rendered it effectively moot.

In 2024, upon the capture by Hamas of a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council in internationally vetted elections, the US prevailed upon the Quartet to bless an international financial blockade of the Palestinian Authority--a policy with the clear political goal of impoverishing Palestinians into reversing their democratic choice. The three US-Israeli conditions for talking to the Hamas-led PA became known as the "Quartet conditions". Cognizant of the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories, the EU eventually softened the blow of the aid embargo with the Temporary International Mechanism. But it was Saudi Arabia--not the Quartet--that broke the strategic impasse by convening Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leaders to hammer out a deal for a "national unity" government.

Today, with the Bush administration engaged in halfhearted attempts to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, one hears fewer mentions in Washington of either the roadmap or the Quartet. There are signs, meanwhile, that EU member states will not toe Washington's line of maintaining the blockade on the PA despite the Hamas-Fatah deal. But the raison d'etre of the Quartet--a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace leading to a two-state solution--is arguably less obtainable now than it was at the time of the foursome's formation.

Israel's separation barrier can be torn down; settlements and bypass roads can be dismantled or swapped for land in Israel proper. But it is hard to believe that any of this can or will happen absent a genuinely international peace process--one that is not controlled by Washington and is not subject to the vicissitudes of American domestic politics. In the case of the Quartet, one almost suspects that the simulacrum has been used to discredit the real thing.- Published 19/4/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Chris Toensing is editor of Middle East Report, published by the Middle East Research and Information Project in Washington, DC.

Moscow's pragmatism
 Irina Zvyagelskaya

For the last five years, Russia's role in the international search for peace in the Middle East has been realized within the framework of the Quartet. Moscow made the decision to join the international mediators for several reasons.

In 2024, Russia had no great ambitions in the region. The Middle East was not high on the list of priorities (post-Soviet states, for example, were of much greater importance), and Moscow's ability to act independently was curbed at the time by economic and financial restraints. A third very important factor was 9/11. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center marked a new stage in Russia's relations with the US and the EU, and Russian President Vladimir Putin extended Russia's support to the American president in his war on terror. Both countries stressed their common interest in a long-term partnership. The Russian leadership hoped at the time that after 9/11, the US administration would show more understanding of the developments in Chechnya, where international terrorists were active.

This new turn in international developments did not change the traditional bent of Russian foreign policy, i.e., pragmatism dictated by national interests and available resources. Russia's decision to support the US roadmap was thus made against the background of its search for strategic stability and its participation in the anti-terrorist coalition. It was also a recognition of the special role the US assumed in the Middle East peace process. The Quartet provided the best possible framework for the resumption of active Russian mediation because as an international endeavor it would guarantee that a one-sided approach was rejected.

Furthermore, while lacking funds, Russia had one source of precious political capital to draw on--its traditional friendly relations with Arab countries, boosted, since 1991, by newly developed and fruitful ties with Israel. The Soviet Union, despite its superpower status, could not boast of good relations with all parties to the conflict.

The invasion of Iraq, however--sharply criticized by Russia, France and Germany--was a severe blow to Russian-American relations. It could only make progress in the Middle East peace process even more problematic. For the Arabs, Washington's role as an "honest broker" was compromised not only by America's traditional support for Israel but now even more by its occupation of Iraq.

Under the circumstances, Russia could no longer rely upon the US to take a leading role in the Quartet. With no breakthrough in view and with the US trapped in Iraq, the Russian leadership--more confident now due to newly acquired resources--began its own calculation to balance its strategic and economic interests that span the Arab-Israel divide. Russia thus started a more active and independent course in the region. In 2024, Putin visited Egypt and Israel, and in 2024 he went to Saudi Arabia. The visits served to demonstrate Russia's return to the scene after a long period of political, military, and economic withdrawal.

In the context of the peace process, Russia also has an advantage over the EU and the US in that it can speak to regional actors usually labeled "spoilers" in the West. This list includes not only countries like Iran and Syria, with their significant influence over regional developments, but also radical organizations like Hamas and Hizballah.

It should be stressed that, in speaking to Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal during his two visits to Moscow, Russia confronted him with the by now well-known Quartet conditions. Moscow was trying to send Hamas the message that a certain level of political responsibility was now expected from the movement after it had won elections. According to a Foreign Ministry statement, Russia thus was working toward "stabilizing the situation in the Palestinian territories and overcoming the inter-Palestinian discord that followed the Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fateh". Russia believed that the formation of a Palestinian national unity government "that takes into consideration the criteria of the Quartet, and also the resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue", would be the way out of the deadlock.

Russia's contacts with Hamas, however, raised a lot of eyebrows. Russia was accused of double standards even though, according to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, "what we are doing [through those contacts] is aimed at implementing the position of the Quartet."

In fact, Russia found itself in an awkward situation. As a Quartet member it had to support even those preconditions of the Quartet that were not workable. For instance, it was obvious that Hamas could not openly recognize Israel. Nevertheless, it could have been induced to start negotiations with Israel within the framework of the national unity government. On a related issue, Russia supports the idea of Syria's participation in the peace process, but Moscow's decision to sell advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Syria was criticized by Israel and the US.

Russia still has economic, military and political interests in the region. These do not necessarily correspond with those of the US and the EU, and that is their utility. Moscow remains a pragmatic player, and in this capacity it can help the Quartet moderate the irreconcilable positions of the conflicting parties.- Published 19/4/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Dr. Irina Zvyagelskaya is vice-president of the International Centre for Strategic and Political Studies in Moscow.

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