The demand by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Israel freeze all settlement activity in the West Bank including “natural growth” has now been endorsed at a meeting of the Quartet - America, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - held at Trieste on 26 June 2009.
However that was not the only demand made by the Quartet - although reading the myriad media reports of that meeting one could be excused for imagining it was the sole subject of discussion.
The communique issued by the Quartet contained the following notable demand:
“Noting the detrimental effect of Palestinian divisions and underscoring its desire for these divisions to be overcome, the Quartet called on all Palestinians to commit themselves to non- violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations. Restoring Palestinian unity based on Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) commitments would be an important factor in this process. while facilitating reconstruction of Gaza and the organization of elections. The Quartet expressed support on this basis, for the ongoing mediation efforts of Egypt and the Arab League for Palestinian reconciliation behind President Abbas and appealed to all States in the region to play a constructive role in supporting the reconciliation process”
Clearly the Quartet itself has come to the conclusion that the Palestinian Authority under President Abbas is a toothless tiger incapable of negotiating and concluding any form of binding peace treaty with Israel whilst Fatah and Hamas remain engaged in their deadly and divisive power struggle.
Any suggestion that Israel should freeze settlement activity in these circumstances of complete Palestinian chaos and disunity seems premature to say the least.
The Quartet is talking pie in the sky if it believes Hamas will reconcile behind President Abbas. Hamas regards itself as the legitimately elected Government of the Palestinians. Hamas will not abandon that position in favour of anyone - especially President Abbas - who illegitimately clings to the office of President after his term of office expired in January.
Under the Palestinian Authority constitution, if the office of the president is considered vacant, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council - Abdel Aziz Dweik - serves as interim President for 60 days until new elections are held.
Hamas legislator Salem Salemeh made Hamas’ view abundantly clear on 25 June when he stated:
“Dweik is the real president of the Palestinians after Abbas’ term in office expired in January”[Al-Manar TV 25 June 2009]
His statement followed an attempt by Dweik to hold a press conference inside the Palestinian Legislative Chamber on 24 June that was prevented by Fatah legislators on the grounds that only Abbas had the authority to call such a meeting.
In this politically charged and uncertain environment there is simply no credible negotiating partner to sit down with Israel to implement the obligations under the Road Map.
The prospects of further negotiations at this point in time having any possible chance of success have been highlighted by the Quartet’s own statement that :
“these negotiations must result in the end of all claims.”
Neither Hamas nor Fatah will ever be able to abandon their claim for millions of Arabs and their descendants to emigrate to Israel. It is written into their respective constitutions and forms the very essence of their continued functioning and existence . To concede that right in negotiations would be political suicide and impossible to abandon by either Fatah or Hamas with any certainty that such claim would not be prosecuted at a later time in changed circumstances.
The Quartet continues to persist with the simplistic notion affirmed in its statement that :
“the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that ends the occupation began in 1967 and fulfils the aspirations of both parties for independent homelands through two states for two peoples, Israel and an independent, contiguous and viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security”
This solution was first proposed in 1937, again in 1947 and could have been achieved at any time between 1948-1967 after Jews living in the West Bank and Gaza were driven out by the invading Arab armies of Jordan and Egypt.
Tried again in 1993, 2000 and now under the Road Map since 2003 - the Quartet have backed themselves into a corner in again persisting with the claim that this is “the only viable solution.”.
There are other alternative solutions to “ending the occupation” of West Bank and Gazan Arabs that remain unexplored and unaddressed which do not have to involve the creation of a new Arab State between Israel and Jordan.
The Quartet’s stubborn insistence on its solution being the only viable solution indicates the bankruptcy of its thinking. It exposes the Quartet’s inability to adjust to the current political void in the Palestinian leadership that has totally destroyed any prospects of the Quartet’s solution even remotely occurring whilst the reconciliation process urged by the Quartet remains unfulfilled.
To expect any other outcome in negotiations whilst the West Bank and Gaza remain split into separate Fatah and Hamas fiefdoms is naïve in the extreme.
In these circumstances any demand to freeze Israeli settlements is misdirected and mistimed.
Freezing the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority until Hamas and Fatah sort out their differences makes far more sense.
To freeze settlements - in an attempt to induce the political eunuch that the Palestinian Authority presently represents to enter into meaningless and ineffectual negotiations - would be a grave error of judgment on Israel’s part.
There is no point in Israel negotiating with the Palestinian Authority at this point of time given the Palestinian Authority’s lack of legitimacy to enter into any binding commitments that it would ever have the power to enforce.
Freezing the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority until Hamas and Fatah sort out their differences is an imperative to defrosting any attempt by the Quartet to see its solution realised - as remote and distant as that prospect exists after six years of wasted effort so far.
The sooner the Quartet starts to face this reality, the sooner it may gain some credibility in its attempt to bring an end to the 120 years old conflict between Jews and Arabs over the territory once called Palestine.