Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Israel welcomes proposal by Quartet, Palestinians negative as usual

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On 23 September, when the Palestinians presented their application for full membership to the UN, the Middle East Quartet (consisting of the US, EU, Russia and the UN) announced a proposal to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to direct negotiations.

The Quartet statement urged the parties "to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions." The operational paragraphs of the Quartet proposal included:

"1. Within a month there will be a preparatory meeting between the parties to agree an agenda and method of proceeding in the negotiation.
2. At that meeting there will be a commitment by both sides that the objective of any negotiation is to reach an agreement within a timeframe agreed to by the parties but not longer than the end of 2012. The Quartet expects the parties to come forward with comprehensive proposals within three months on territory and security, and to have made substantial progress within six months..."

Tony Blair, the Quartet's envoy to the Middle East, said that if the Israelis and Palestinians are serious about peace, they should respond positively to the initiative.

Israel did immediately respond positively to the Quartet's proposal, however, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas did not, responding instead negatively.

While Israel is currently preparing a formal response to the Quartet proposal, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israel should accept the Quartet's proposal to begin negotiations without preconditions. Even though he expressed reservations about the proposal, he hoped the Palestinians would also respond positively to the initiative and begin serious dialogue with Israel. However, Lieberman added:

"Mahmoud Abbas fled immediately after his speech, so that we could not, God forbid, negotiate". "The Palestinians make up excuses not to negotiate all the time. Those who want excuses will find them. Mahmoud Abbas continues to demand the right of return, and if a Palestinian state is established in Judea and Samaria, he will still want to send the refugees to Israeli territory."

While Abbas said that he would not give his opinion on the Quartet's proposal until he discussed the initiative with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, he reiterated that the return to the 1967 borders and halting of settlement construction are pre-conditions to negotiations.

Middle East commentator Elliot Abrams, a former National Security Adviser in the George W. Bush Administration, argues that Abbas has made a number of serious errors by pursuing the UN statehood bid, but that the "most striking evidence of Abbas' error came in the Quartet statement". Abrams writes:

"In the past two and half years, every Quartet statement has reflected Obama's obsession with construction in the settlements and has demanded a freeze. The statements have also often reflected the Obama Administration's tilt toward the Palestinians and against Israel. But not this one. Instead it reflected both Obama's own U.N. speech, tilting the other way as the American elections appeared over the horizon, and EU annoyance with Abbas. This Quartet statement did not even mention settlements, not once, and instead simply laid out a long timetable for negotiations. The Quartet statement ‘reiterated its urgent appeal to the parties to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions,' thereby rejecting the Palestinian demand that a construction freeze come first."

The lesson for Abbas is that Palestinian statehood ultimately depends on Israel, the US and the EU, and that his UN statehood bid has offended these parties. Therefore Abrams writes:

"It is true that Abbas's U.N. ploy may work for him in terms of his own domestic politics...But he did not take the Palestinians one step closer to peace, nor did he speak to them seriously about what peace will require from them. In this he is a faithful follower of his mentor Yasser Arafat."

The Quartet's proposal offers a constructive path towards achieving the attainment of Palestinian statehood alongside Israel with an end to conflict. As Netanyahu stated when he addressed the UN General Assembly:

"The Palestinians should first make peace with Israel and then get their state. But I also want to tell you this. After such a peace agreement is signed, Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as a new member of the United Nations. We will be the first."

Sharyn Mittelman


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