The Quartet "plays" to an almost empty room
On 19 March 2010, the Quartet on the Middle East (the United Nations, Russia, the USA, and the EU) had a new reunion in Moscow. Ever since its establishment in 2002, by the initiative of the Spanish prime minister at the time, Aznar, as a result of the escalating conflict in the Middle East - the Quartet has been meeting regularly and the declarations adopted every time are in fact representative for the very few achievements of this foursome of nations and international and supranational entities.
This meeting in Moscow was no different than the usual ones, as the Quartet reaffirmed the principles laid down in its statement in June 2009 in Trieste and mentioned "circumstances that could make the resumption of negotiations possible". In other words, the Quartet felt the need to say there are still possibilities for the peace negotiations to continue. Otherwise, it should have admitted its uselessness, its impotence, and thus end its activity after eight years of playing a tune that was not taken into consideration by the Middle Eastern audience.
The international and regional geopolitical context during this year's conference was different especially because of the situation in Iran; also, the situation has been difficult for the Washington Administration, considering the declarations of vice-president Joe Biden, the "phone conversation" between Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu and the efforts of the American Special Envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell.
Also, the Israelis insist in continuing their expansion by planning and building new settlements in the occupied territories and especially in East Jerusalem. According to the latest data, about 500,000 Israelis live in over 100 settlements built after 1967 in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. The international legislation considers these settlements illegal, but Israel does not recognize it. The Israelis intend to include locations of sacred religious significance for the Muslims in the cities of Hebron and Bethlehem into the list of national historical heritage, and that is a new factor of tension. Also, there are many other elements which, according to some sources, could lead to the start of a new Intifada in the very near future. The restoration and opening of a synagogue in old Jerusalem has caused new animosities, as the synagogue is taller than the mosques in the neighborhood.
The diplomatic efforts have continued with a new presence of George Mitchell in the Middle East, and the trip of the UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon to Ramallah, where he met the Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad and then the Israeli president Shimon Perez. At the same time, the Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu went to Washington where he met the secretary of state Hillary Clinton and president Barack Obama, and cancel at the last moment his trip to Europe. In our opinion, the main strategic objective of the Israeli premier visiting the USA was not the unblocking of peace negotiations, but dealing with the Iranian issue and the consolidating the alliance between Israel and the USA. We believe Israel does not wish to establish peace with the Arabs and especially with the Palestinians just yet, and perhaps the Israelis are not even ready for such peace. In fact, all the recent positions expressed by premier Benjamin Netanyahu say nothing else but the fact that Israel has maintained the political lines and actions that the Americans have agreed with until now, and consequently the USA should remain constant in respecting its attitude. Recently, even president Obama seems to have changed his attitude in one of the key issues, namely the status of Jerusalem. Immediately after he got nominated as candidate of the democrats for the presidency, he was saying in the applauses of the pro-Israeli Americans that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and must stay undivided". After that, in 2010, he insists that Israel should stop building new colonies in the territories, thus causing an unprecedented crisis between the USA and Israel "since the time when George H.W. Bush and Yitzhak Shamir had agreed together on the issue of colonies (in the occupied territories), 20 years ago, if not more" (The Jerusalem Post, 21.03.2010). Following the same logic, general David Petraeus is also guilty for the divergences in the bilateral relations between Israel and the USA, because in mid March he declared that the American troops are confronted in the theaters of operations with the additional danger of "Arab discontent on the Palestinian issue" and the "US favoritism towards Israel".
We admit, the Israeli logic and the diplomatic arguments are very persuasive and intelligent. But when the blame always belongs to the others, a question appears: Is it truly like that?