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The Middle East Quartet: A dishonest broker in denial of the facts

The Quartet needs to talk to Hamas. Instead the pro-Israel bias in its latest report could give Israel the excuse it needs to attack Gaza again

Last week, The Middle East Quartet published a report urging the Palestinian and Israeli political leaderships to take measures to preserve the path for the two-state solution.

A critical reading of that report demonstrates why efforts to achieve a two-state solution have failed over the last two decades. The report is full of the inherent biases, problematic assumptions, ill-informed recommendations, and skewed views of reality that have been the hallmark of international institutions like the Quartet, which have entrenched the status quo of injustice, military occupation and violence. 

Objective readers of the Quartet’s latest report can be easily confused: is it a report published by an international body or by an Israeli ministry or a Tel Aviv-based think tank? The main premise of that report is that it is “Palestinian terrorism and incitement to violence” that are to blame for Israeli insecurity and for the political deadlock.

The report builds its “analysis” on a set of false and implausible assumptions. For example, it assumes that Netanyahu supports the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security; and that the majority of people on both sides still support the two-state solution.

Is it possible that the Quartet officials do not listen to Israeli political and military leaders from the left and right who repeatedly and clearly express their rejection of the two-state solution? Just last year on the eve of Israeli elections, Netanyahu said no to a Palestinian state. In those elections, the Israeli electorate voted in 78 Knesset members opposed to the two-state solution. In May 2016, Netanyahu rejected the French Peace Initiative which is also based on the two-state solution framework. In July 2016, Netanyahu announced further settlements expansion in the occupied West Bank in a colonisation project that makes a two-state solution impossible.

As for the Israelis themselves, a recent Pew Research Center survey revealed that only 43 percent of Israeli Jews think “a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully”. A majority (62 percent) of those who describe themselves as being on the Israeli right politically say a two-state solution is not possible.

As for the Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, nearly 50 years of living under Israeli occupation has led them to give up hope. According to a June 2016 survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, only 29 percent expect the French Initiative to succeed, 56 percent support abandoning the Oslo agreement, and 57 percent believe that the two-state solution is no longer viable. As for the six million Palestinians living in refugee camps and in exile, evidently, no one has consulted or asked them about the matter.

The Quartet’s views are also problematic when the issue of incitement to violence is discussed. The blame ratio for Palestinian incitement to violence against the Israeli one is 4:1. Four paragraphs were devoted in the report to talk about Palestinian incitement to violence as opposed to one paragraph to the Israeli side in a clear illustration of the absence of neutrality. The ongoing racist, fundamentalist and violent Israeli incitement to violence went almost unnoticed by the Quartet officials. Certainly this is not due to a lack of evidence, but due to a particular methodological design and to the absence of a political will that aims to hold Israel and its leadership accountable.  

Even if you use the logic of the Quartet, if the violence since October 2015 in Palestine-Israel is mutual, why is the Palestinian violence labelled as “terror attacks”, while the Israeli violence is not? What is the justification, if any, for such labelling and what sort of political objectives does it serve?

Similarly, the Quartet argues that Hamas’s illicit arms build-up and militant activity are to blame for the failure of the two-state solution: then where is the evidence for this politically driven argument? Why has none of the evidence that Israel initiated the three major assaults on Gaza been taken into account? This claim is a dangerous one as it could give Israel a golden opportunity to initiate another war on Gaza.

Furthermore, when will the Quartet officials start listening more carefully to Hamas leaders and pay attention to the radical changes that they have gone through over the last decade? The Quartet should take very seriously Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson’s argument for the need to recognise Hamas as a legitimate political actor, and must also acknowledge that it is time “to do business” with Hamas if the Quartet is interested in an inclusive peace.

The report talks about the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and the politically driven siege of its 2 million people in a remarkably apolitical sense that dismisses the political construct of such a “humanitarian crisis” and indeed the complicity of the international community in sustaining it. Instead, it “praises” the Israeli government for lifting some of its restrictions due to Quartet pressure, which is ironic and very self-serving.

The report complains about the lack of Palestinian unity and considers it another contributing factor for the failure of the two-state solution. This is surreal since it is the Quartet and the international community who have entrenched such a divide via their denial of the results of democratic Palestinian elections a decade ago.

While the Quartet acknowledges that the Israeli-Jewish settlement expansion is a factor hindering the two-state solution, it fails to recognise that it represents a clear violation of international law that could amount to a war crime.   

Stating the facts correctly and upholding international law should be the basic features of any entity that claims global representation. Otherwise, the legitimacy of such bodies will continue to erode.

The Middle East Quartet is yet another dishonest broker. Its approach and skewed understanding of reality will not bring peace any closer. It will just make peace impossible.

If the Quartet and the international community are really interested in a genuine, just and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis, they need to leave their comfort zone, listen more carefully to civil society, and start addressing the hard questions of which, first and foremost, is how to end the Israeli occupation as a step toward achieving equality for all.

- Dr Alaa Tartir is the programme director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, and a post-doctoral researcher at the Graduate Institute’s Centre on Conflict, Development, and Peacebuilding. Follow Alaa Tartir on Twitter @alaatartir

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

Photo: A member of the Israeli border guards aims a tear gas launcher during clashes with Palestinian protesters at the main entrance of the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem on 23 October, 2015 (AFP).

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