A report to be issued by the moribund Middle East Quartet on 25 May is being touted as employing a harsher tone with regard to Israel's colonial expansion. It has, as a result, ushered-in a period of renewed lobbying by Israel. The report's publication was announced in February during a meeting of the Quartet in Munich, when the possibility of the group cooperating with the UN Security Council was also discussed.
According to Haaretz, unnamed diplomats, including three US officials, have described the report as "largely symbolic, requiring no action." Another anonymous diplomat elaborated upon the "balanced" stance of the report, citing criticism of Palestinians for alleged "incitement and violence against Israeli citizens" while stating that "the focus on Israel will be its most contentious aspect." The newspaper quoted a senior Israeli government official as stating: "The main question is how harsh criticism of the settlements will be. All the members of the Quartet can rally around this issue without a problem."
Israel's main concerns are the possibility of the US shifting its rhetoric to declare the settlements to be illegal — as per international laws and conventions — rather than the usual "not legitimate and an obstacle to peace". There is also the possibility of the report being presented to the Security Council, which raises the issue of additional resolutions or international efforts to decide on Israel's — and thus a future State of Palestine's — borders. This is an issue that Israel has so far avoided in concordance with its "Greater Israel" agenda; it remains the only UN member state which has no declared and internationally-recognised borders.
Although referred to as the Quartet report, American envoy Frank Lowenstein is responsible for its composition. Hence, it is basically a US publication interspersed with contributions from the other members representing the UN, EU and Russia.
Undoubtedly, regardless of whether settlements are criticised harshly or not, the report is yet another timely tool to elevate Israel's demands to the international community. The French peace initiative, which has eclipsed other diplomatic engagements in recent weeks, offers no incentive for Palestinians and is marketing itself directly as a regurgitation of previous proposals aimed at dehumanising and compromising Palestinians. The Quartet report can be seen as an additional item which will maximise benefits for Israel even within the context of the conference. Israeli officials have expressed concern regarding the timing of its publication, claiming that it can easily be used to manipulate and influence Paris. This gives the erroneous impression that France is an autonomous entity concerned with extracting a semblance of support for Palestine; in fact, the French government has given excessive and frequent proof of its support for the Zionist project.
The scrutiny of, and drawing attention to, illegal Israeli settlements is gaining ground at the moment, although this should be seen as a calculated process repeated at specific intervals in order to delay specific international action that would lead to a freeze on settlement expansion and construction. The key terminology remains constant. The two-state paradigm is used as a convenience, while allowing the underlying motives to proceed unhindered. Such reasoning gives Israel ample time and space for its colonial conquest with international acquiescence.
Whether this is achieved by lobbying or direct demands is irrelevant. Indeed, the international community is structuring itself according to the processes dictated by Israel. The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, humours itself by drafting and withdrawing resolutions, discussing "peace" with aggressors, and expressing gratitude for symbolic gestures at the expense of depleted territory and a population subjected to periodic massacres and ongoing ethnic cleansing. It will be business as usual for Israel no matter what sort of rhetoric the Quartet's upcoming report employs.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.