Moving Beyond The Quartet

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

July 7, 2016




The report that was recently released by the Middle East Quartet – comprised of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations – is a welcome step. The report reiterates the importance of reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of a two-state solution. Perhaps most crucially, the report concludes with a pointed observation that unless significant and tangible progress toward peace is made, the status quo will inevitably lead to further deterioration in Israeli-Palestinian relations and potentially renewed full-scale violence between the two sides.

According to the report, there are three elements that are currently aggravating the fragile state of affairs: first is the ongoing (albeit sporadic) violence; second is the continued expansion and legalization of settlements; and third is the illicit build-up of arms, specifically by Hamas.

To reverse these trends, the Quartet recommends that no unilateral action should be taken by either side – for example, the annexation of more territories by Israel, or new attempts by the Palestinians to ‘internationalize’ the resolution of the conflict – and that both sides demonstrate sincere commitment to achieving a two-state solution.

The Quartet also calls for ending incitement, ceasing settlement expansion, refraining from ‘provocative actions’, and fostering a ‘climate of tolerance,’ and although all are necessary, the report does not provide any new insights, nor does it establish a framework that could lead to a durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nevertheless, the Quartet report is important in bringing back the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the attention of the international community, stressing the need to begin serious negotiations to reach an agreement and warning that, otherwise, they will both suffer dire consequences.

That said, while the Quartet recognizes the dire situation in the Middle East now, it fails to take into account the reality on the ground and the psychological dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has and continues to impede any progress.

Indeed, given the venomous relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, it does not allow for the implementation of any peace initiative, either unilaterally or through international involvement. Therefore, the situation on the ground must first change to create a conducive environment for both sides to make the necessary concessions.

As a result, neither Israel nor the Palestinians are able, even if they were willing, to make the necessary compromises in the current atmosphere. They have and continue to defy repeated calls by the Quartet and the US to solve the conflict, and ignored numerous UNSC resolutions (including 242 and 338) which called on Israel and the Palestinians to solve their conflict based on a two-state solution.

To that end, I strongly feel that any future negotiation must be preceded by a process of reconciliation in order to address three critical issues: mutual distrust, concerns over security, and the illusion that either side can have it all at the complete expense of the other.

Although the Quartet’s report briefly mentions the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative (API), in my view, the API should not be considered as a mere device for directing the negotiating process, but rather as the central framework for achieving a comprehensive peace.

There are a number of facts that distinguish the API from any other framework for peace: First, it originated from the Arab states (led by Saudi Arabia), to which they relate, rather than from the outside the region, as does the Quartet, which has no Arab representation.

Second, the API provides all parties to the conflict – including Hamas and Israel, who have not embraced it as of yet – several common denominators on which they agree, though they have not, for strategic reasons, accepted them publicly, including the Palestinian refugees, national security, the disposition of the settlements, and the future of Jerusalem.

Third, the API offers a realistic framework for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in the context of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, which both sides desire.

Finally, it is important to note in this regard that the API was not offered on a take it or leave it basis, as was portrayed to the Israeli public. All of the conflicting issues are subject to negotiation between the two sides if there is any true intention by both sides to reach an agreement.

In this regard, I believe France’s initiative to resume Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is critically important. France is trying to take a different approach to solving the conflict, and is considering the API framework to that end.

I maintain, however, that the French initiative must pay specific attention to the need to psychologically prepare both sides through a process of reconciliation (people-to-people interaction) before the resumption of formal negotiations to dramatically enhance the chance of succeeding.

There is no doubt that under any circumstances the peace process has become ever more intractable over the past decade and will further deteriorate and potentially lead to a major conflagration that neither side wants but is doing little to avoid.

France’s international conference, to take place toward the end of the fall as a follow-up to the first conference that took place on June 3rd, will certainly generate greater momentum to resume peace negotiations. It must, however, offer international mechanisms starting with the process of reconciliation that could potentially lead to a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached a point of saturation which is bound to explode. Any voice that raises the attention of the international community to prevent a catastrophe in the making is a welcome one.

It is time to act, and in that sense the Quartet has made its contribution. It must now be translated into a workable framework, which only the API can provide.

About the Author: Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.                             Web:

Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
Let us not kid ourselves; once the two SOVEREIGN states side by side solution is contingent on the "security" of Israel as opposed to the rights of the sovereign statehood of the Palestinians,there shall always be "full-scale violence between the two sides", not to talk about the two sides´arguments based on religious grounds as opposed to political grounds!
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 06:44AM, 2016/07/08.
sylvester moses
Mr. Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah, the two states side - by - side solution has never been an issue; Lord Balfour's letter which led to the 1948 official declaration of the State of Israel mandated it. And "the two sides´arguments based on religious grounds" shouldn't be escalated beyond its worth, either. You would recall that hundreds of years before Prophet Mohammed was born, Judaism was the staple in those territories. That was long before the Romans conquered Judea in the 1st century BCE, and changed its name to "Palestina". A conquest, as you know, which ended Jewish independence; reducing Judea first to a tributary kingdom, and then a province of the Roman Empire.

We hate to hitch on history when it comes to the ongoing Israeli - Palestinian conflict, but it is a topic that defies rationality since the major claims are wrapped around mysticism and otherwordliness, thus, rendering pretensions to objectivity suspect. For instance, the argument that God gave Cannan to the Jews no matter that their own holy texts attest to the fact that it was taken after the exodus from Egypt. Or take the Palestenian position of pursuing the fiction that the land was seized by the Jews from their ancestors when Romans who, expelled the last Jews from Jerusalem, ala seige of Masada, in the first Jewish - Roman War between 73 CE and 74 CE, actually named the "land" Palestina.

Most importantly, probably, no living Palestenian can trace lineage to the various tribes that were on the "land" before the pugnacious arrival of the Jews. The Muslim conquest of Jerusalem that provoked crusades and the subsequent rise of a Saladinian Caliphate were later events.

Anyway, that's all beyond the point in this persuasive plea of Dr. Alon Ben-Meir regarding the urgent need "to create a conducive environment for both sides to make the necessary concessions". Obviously, the bulwark to going forward is to a great extent hinging on the "right to return", and "recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, an act that will implicitly assure Isreal's security.

The problem here though as Ali Salim eloquently noted in his feb 3, 2014 article "Why the Palestenians Refuse to Recognize Israel as Jewish State", recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would end the dream of the return to Palestine. He also observed that 'Palestine' for Hamas is the "entire state of Israel". Morover, in a Middle East captivated by terrorism, allowing the return of millions could pose a security threat, and would also overwhelm the Jewish electoral majority - perilous to the very idea of a Jewish state. Indeed, that's a nonstarter. Furthermore, as attractive as the Saudi Arabian - led API framework is, for the two machismo combatants playing to their galleries; "who blinks first" will lose the war of nerves, so to speak.

To sum, we think the conflict is so subjective that appealling to reason, or expecting voluntary "concessions" would be a waste of time while innocent lives are senselessly lost on both sides of the power drunkeness divide. Perhaps, instead of endlessly barking, the UN Security Council should try biting. First, compel Israel to its pre - 1967 borders, except the Golan Heights for obvious security reasons. And, second, order the Palestenians to disregard any notion of an impracticable "right of return" request, and to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Of course, in exchange for these concessions, a Palestenian state should be declared together with a huge Marshall plan to develop it. The touchy security modalities can be addressed later.

Frankly, the fact of the matter is that talking won't get anywhere. The Palestenian question has taken up so much of the international community's time, attention, and resources. Meanwhile, the Netayahus, Abasses, and other nutcases trot like peacocks on the world stage never mind the widespread hunger, preventable diseases, and terrorism killing millions yearly all over the globe. It's about time the calculated imperious posturing stops.
sylvester moses at 01:13PM, 2016/07/09.
Sylvester moses
Corrections:Second para, "Canaan", and last para, "strut" as in 'swagger', not 'trot'.GH
Sylvester moses at 03:20PM, 2016/07/09.
Kandajabab Zoebohn Zoedjallah
Mr. Sylvester Moses,

Our argument is that believing the security of one side should dissolve the right to sovereign statehood and the right to return is naivety at its height!

Who owned or in fact who owns the Golan Heights ipso facto the pre-1967 frontiers? With the correct answer in mind: why the Golan Heights should nor serve the security of its pre-1967 owners but rather its post-1967 occupiers?

Just imagine the Congaus or Americo Liberians claiming the indigenous natives right to return is a threat to the existence of the Congaus! Or better still, the Indigenous Natives claiming the right to return of the Congaus is a threat to the existence of the Natives.

You argue Judaism had long been the "staple" in those territories. But another could remind all about Ishmael! With such unilateral concern about security achievement and denial of rights when both security and rights are identical phenomena with different names, we wonder why.
Kandajabab Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 04:07PM, 2016/07/10.
Kandajabab Zoebohn Zoedjallah
Mr Moses,

Is it ethical, fair, right, or even reasonable for Israel to have a LAW ALLOWING JEWS OR ISRAELIS FROM ANY PART OF THE WORLD TO RETURN while palestinians must nor be allowed to return home?
Kandajabab Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 02:54PM, 2016/07/12.
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