International orgs. give Quartet failing grade

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Quartet Envoy Tony Blair in Ramallah, September 2007. (Omar Rashidi/MaanImages)

WASHINGTON, (IPS) - A new report from several international aid organizations blasts the Quartet, an international group assembled to facilitate the Middle East peace process, for failing to meet their goals in advancing a lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians.

“The Middle East Quartet is failing — making inadequate progress towards improving the lives of Palestinians nor improving the prospects for peace,” said a press release from the involved aid organizations announcing the report.

The report, “The Middle East Quartet: A Progress Report”, says that none of criteria laid out by the Quartet itself have seen significant improvement, and some have even experienced backsliding. In all of the objectives listed by the report, which are based on the most recent statements of the Quartet, most were graded by the report as failures, with a few achieving the qualified status of “partial success.”

The report, assembled by a coalition of 21 aid agencies including Oxfam International, Save the Children UK, World Vision Jerusalem, and CARE International UK, notes that 2008 was viewed by all parties involved as a crucial year for the peace process.

The goal of last November’s Annapolis Conference organized by United States President George W. Bush administration was to achieve at least a “shelf agreement” — a document that would lay out parameters for a final peace deal without its tenets being necessarily implemented — by the end of this year.

The Quartet, made up of the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the US, launched a major bid out of the Annapolis conference to ensure that obligations under both the roadmap for peace, first laid out by Bush in 2002, and international law were being met by both sides in the conflict.

But with the end of 2008 rapidly approaching, it appears the proposed timeframe of the Annapolis conference will go the way of that of the road map — expiration without significant progress on any of the major issues.

Many of the issues that the Quartet set out to work on involved improving the lives of Palestinians, as well as ensuring that the Israelis take steps to end practices that engender animosity among Palestinians.

The objectives are based on the Quartet’s 24 June Berlin statement and include Israeli settlement activity, access and movement for Palestinians, problems resolving crises in Gaza, Palestinian security reform, donor pledges that sustain economically underdeveloped Palestinian occupied territories, and the territories’ eventual development with private sector activity.

But the report focuses on the gap between the words of the Quartet and its inability to effect real change on the ground.

“Unless the Quartet’s words are matched by more sustained pressure and decisive action, the situation will deteriorate still further,” said David Mepham, the director of policy for Save the Children UK, in a statement. “Time is fast running out. The Quartet needs to radically revise its existing approach and show the people of the region that it can help make a difference.”

One of the stickiest issues addressed by the report, perhaps because it deals with a condemnation of Israel rather than an opportunity to advance Palestinian society, is the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories in violation of the road map agreements, international law, and sometimes even Israeli law itself.

Even with strong statements from the Quartet, especially under the current presidency of France when French President Nicolas Sarkozy told the Israeli Knesset in June that expansion “signal[s] a worrying indifference to repeated calls from the international community,” the report recommends that the Quartet use even stronger language and, calling out the US specifically, says that the Quartet should explicitly state that settlements are illegal.

But the response, especially considering the tone of the report speaks to action beyond talking, stops short of calling for international enforcement of laws. Instead, it calls for an “urgent need to adopt concrete measures to follow up on the failure of Israeli authorities to meet their obligations.” The strongest language in the report’s recommendations calls for support of a UN Security Council resolution that would “address the impact of settlement expansion on Palestinian communities and the broader peace process.”

Displaying the inter-connectedness of the issues addressed, the report then takes on the failure of the Quartet to address access and free movement for Palestinians, a problem that is exacerbated by settlement expansion and its supporting infrastructure.

“No ‘new reality’ has been projected within the West Bank, and the failure of the Quartet to achieve progress in this area may constitute a fatal threat to the broader peace process,” said the report in one of its most dire warnings.

The organizations recommend broad changes to Palestinian access, saying that “removing individual obstacles,” such as dismantling checkpoints one at a time, doesn’t emphasize that broader problem is a violation of Palestinian human rights.

In dealing with the Gaza Strip, which was seized in 2007 by the elected Hamas movement in a power struggle with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction after unilateral Israeli disengagement two years earlier, the report notes that the humanitarian and economic development situations are particularly dire.

The report calls for a negotiated settlement of violent hostilities in Gaza, an end to the Israeli blockade, and, subsequently, the “reactivating [of] all stalled humanitarianism and development projects.”

The report, also connecting these issues to others, makes recommendations for improving the Palestinian security strategy, holding donor countries from December 2007’s donor conference in Paris responsible for meeting obligations, and working towards greater private sector development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The report brings a crucial perspective to the peace process because the aid groups, often on the ground themselves or with networks of contacts there, are in a strong position to evaluate progress.

“I think its very important that these groups are weighing in because too often this issue is seen exclusively from the a political perspective and the humanitarian perspective gets a short shrift,” former Israeli negotiator and the director of the Middle East Initiative at the New America Foundation, Daniel Levy, told IPS.

Indeed, the report and accompanying press release spoke directly to the humanitarian situation.

“Today’s study shows that the Quartet has fundamentally failed to improve the humanitarian situation on the ground,” said Mepham.

But the diplomatic failure may well show that the Quartet, which was formed even before it came to prominence with the road map, is not fulfilling some of the goals behind its own creation.

“One of the things that was a great potential in the Quartet was that it gave the Americans cover to be more forward leaning in peace process issues. But the opposite has happened,” Levy told IPS. “It’s really the three lining up with the Americans, who under the Bush administration have been at times unhelpful.”

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