Revitalising the Middle East Quartet post-Blair?

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Tony Blair urged Brits to "rise up" against Brexit. [Centre for American Progress/Flickr]

As the Middle East Quartet comes back to life, the EU must allow its member states to play an active role in the informal international group, to promote peace in the region, writes Nimrod Goren.

Dr. Nimrod Goren is Head of Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies – and a lecturer for Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The meeting of the Middle East Quartet, which convened in the margins of this year’s United Nations General Assembly, was part of an attempt to breathe new life into the multinational mechanism that was set up in 2002 and which has been quite dormant in recent years. Oddly enough, since the resignation of Tony Blair as the representative of the Quartet in May 2015, and despite the fact that a replacement for him has not been named, the informal group has begun to show signs of coming back to life.

In recent months, representatives of the Quartet – from the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations – have held a series of meetings across the Arab world. These occurred in Cairo (June), in Amman (July), and in Riyadh (September). The focus of these meetings was to identify and promote measures that will preserve the viability of a two-state solution, improve the situation on the ground, and will enable the restarting of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in the future. However, these meetings also had another purpose – to increase the involvement of Arab states and the Arab League in efforts to promote the peace process, while emphasising the Arab Peace Initiative.

The meeting of the Quartet, which took place on 30 September in New York, was supposed to be the highpoint of these efforts and senior representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League were also invited to attend. Yet the results of the meeting were far from a breakthrough. Issues raised included a need for the Quartet to consult on a regular basis with regional actors and to hear other voices in the international community; a call for both Israel and the Palestinians to implement previously signed agreements in a more complete manner, and to take concrete steps on the ground with the help of the Quartet. It was also planned for a diplomatic delegation of the Quartet to visit both Jerusalem and Ramallah in mid-October, in an attempt to build some sort of positive momentum. This visit, however, was cancelled, reportedly due to opposition by Israel’s Prime Minister due to the security escalation.

The Quartet’s efforts do not occur in a vacuum. In the past year, the international community has devoted extensive energy to answering the question of what are the possible next steps it might take in order to promote a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. While the United States is still in a phase of reassessing its policy, which it announced after the failure of the negotiations led by Secretary of State John Kerry, France has been leading efforts to launch new initiatives. But these efforts, chief among them an attempt to introduce a UN Security Council resolution outlining agreed-upon parameters for a two-state solution, were postponed again and again. This happened first because of the elections in Israel, later because of the negotiations between the EU3+3 and Iran about the latter’s nuclear program, and finally because of a lack of American support.

In the absence of progress on the content of an agreement, the international community began in the summer of 2015 to contemplate the creation of a new mechanism – an International Support Group for the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process. At its core, this initiative is an attempt to add a number of European and Arab countries to the Quartet. The French led this effort, it was supported by the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, and the European Union Foreign Affairs Council authorised its High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to lead consultations on the matter. The impetus for this initiative was influenced by the success of the model of negotiations conducted by the EU3+3 with Iran, which proved to them that an international coalition has the capacity to reach diplomatic achievements.

Unfortunately, it seems that among the Quartet members there is a wish to preserve its current standing and composition. However, if the Quartet wishes to create new momentum on the Israel-Palestine issue it must show a willingness to renew and reinvigorate itself while accepting additional countries into its fold (and not merely consulting and taking advice from them). It would not be an easy diplomatic task to decide which countries should become members and which should be left out, but the creation of a new international mechanism to advance the prospects of a two-state solution may assist the international community in executing new coordinated initiatives whose implementation has failed time and time again over the past year.

The EU should overcome its reluctance to have some of its member states be part of a new international mechanism, as this may open opportunities for both the EU and its member states to promote their initiatives toward the peace process, this time within a broader international context.

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