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Israel backs away from Quartet conditions

By Omar Radwan

The Israeli government has announced that it will refuse any invitation to start direct negotiations with the Palestinians issued by the diplomatic Quartet responsible for mediating the Middle East peace process; the Quartet consists of the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States. Instead, the Israeli government has said it will only respond to an invitation issued unilaterally by the United States. Since Israel has long been insisting that the Palestinian Authority enter into direct, rather than indirect, talks and the Palestinian Authority has recently received a green light from the Arab League to proceed, it would have been safe to assume that the source of the invitation would be a formality. That it arrived from the international body charged with responsibility for the peace process should have been no problem for either party.

However, there is a reason why Israel is worried about an invitation issued from the Quartet; it would specify the basis for the negotiations and define their goals. In March this year, the Quartet called for a freeze on settlements and a full resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within two years, which would involve the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Quartet's invitation would most likely incorporate these conditions and if Israel were to accept, it would be bound by these conditions.

Hence Israel's insistence on the invitation being issued unilaterally by the United States; such a document is most unlikely to contain any such conditions. The Obama administration has shown that it is always willing to give in to Israel, as it did when it backtracked from its demand that Israel cease settlement activity in September last year. The US will give Israel the kind of negotiations it wants; negotiations without any direction which will allow Israel to continue settlement activity while the talks buy the Jewish state time to do so. Negotiations under these terms are neither intended to, nor will, lead to a viable Palestinian state. They are simply a device to give Israel's project to colonise the West Bank a fa├žade of legitimacy. Israel's settlements, settler-only roads and military bases currently occupy 40% of the West Bank, so it seems impossible that the Quartet's declared goal of a Palestinian state within two years will be achieved. Israel declared a ten-month freeze on settlements last year but this freeze was widely seen as fictitious and was not accepted by the Palestinian Authority because it did not include East Jerusalem and allowed Israel to construct 3,000 more housing units across the occupied West Bank. The "freeze" is due to expire on September 26 and it is expected that Israel will resume unbridled settlement construction after this date, making sure that no Palestinian state will ever come into being. Recently, Israel announced that it was constructing a new road between Jerusalem and the settlement of Maaleh Adumim, a clear indicator of the desire to expand existing settlements, build new ones and tighten its choke-hold on the West Bank.

The Israeli government's announcement not only shows that it has no intention of freezing settlements or allowing a viable Palestinian state to come into existence; it also reveals the level of its contempt for the international community, represented by the Quartet, and how irrelevant the Quartet has become. It is the official mediator of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians yet Israel can cast it aside with impunity. Israel has a long history of treating the international community in this way, refusing to abide by its obligations when they interfere with the goal of colonisation and control of the West Bank. The road map to peace, which the Quartet put forward in 2002, led absolutely nowhere because of Israel's refusal to stop settlement building. Similarly, the Oslo Accords failed to stop Israel's colonial expansion, and the population of the settlements has tripled since they were signed in 1993.

There are never any meaningful consequences for Israel when it refuses to abide by its international obligations but the Palestinians are regularly strong-armed by the international community into accepting Israel's violations when they protest against them. The Palestinian Authority has been put under heavy pressure to return to direct negotiations by the United States and it has succumbed to this pressure with the approval of the Arab League. However, Israel's rejection of its commitments and its single-minded commitment to its settler-colonial ideology will ensure that these negotiations become just as meaningless as the many that have gone before.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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