x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

'Peace process' is a fig leaf for Quartet

Yet another deadline has passed fruitlessly in Israeli-Palestinian talks. The Quartet has accomplished nothing except to delay while Israel keeps building.

Nobody should be surprised that the "deadline" to resume peace talks expired yesterday with hardly a whimper. The Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, rightly, refused to resume talks in Amman unless Israel made some commitment on borders for a two state-solution. He asked for a commitment that talks would actually be meaningful. Israel, as was to be expected, declined.

Even the Middle East Quartet, which set this date in October, watched the deadline pass in something resembling resignation. More than it harms the already-defunct peace process, this seems to drive another nail in the coffin of the Quartet's relevance in the region.

Renewed talks were part of the back-room deal to avert a United Nations Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood late last year. The bait and switch worked. The momentum that the Palestinian Authority gained from its UN bid, and Unesco's recognition of Palestine, has largely evaporated.

We knew in October that this Israeli government would not agree to realistic talks. The Quartet's proposal for renewed progress in negotiations beggared belief, and leaders from Washington to Moscow knew it. The proposal for talks just alleviated pressure on Israel and conferred on the Quartet a pretence of usefulness. All the while Israel was laying the foundations of more illegal settlements on occupied West Bank land.

Without a unified Palestinian political force, without a renewed peaceful resistance and without significant international pressure, Israel will not bend. This is not to say that negotiations should be off the table. Mr Abbas had agreed to resume direct talks largely because of the urging of King Abdullah II, who reportedly has said Jordan is willing to bring pressure to bear through its 1994 peace treaty with Israel. That pressure must be supported and redoubled.

EU members, much more than the United States, wish to see movement on this issue. But how many times do we need to hear that the peace process is dead? Amr Moussa, the former Arab League chief, pronounced the corpse in 2006; last May, the veteran US negotiator George Mitchell resigned after accomplishing almost nothing. Negotiations require a more realistic view from Israel. Concerted diplomatic pressure, not arbitrary deadlines, is the only way forward.