Elliott Abrams visited Auckland in September 2015. In this article, he analyses the recent UN report submitted by the Middle East Quartet.
The Middle East Quartet’s New Report Misses the Point
The Middle East Quartet has just issued its first report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace efforts, and briefed the Security Council yesterday. The UN’s report on the report begins this way:
Continuing violence, terrorism and incitement, settlement expansion, and the Palestinian Authority’s lack of control of Gaza are hurting the Middle East peace process, the United Nations envoy today said summarizing the first ever report by the diplomatic Quartet – comprising the United Nations, Russia, the United States and the European Union – to the Security Council.”Middle East Quartet Report to UN Security Council
“The main objective of this report is not about assigning blame,” Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the 15-member council. “It focuses on the major threats to achieving a negotiated peace and offers recommendations on the way forward.”
The Quartet was created way back in 2002 by Colin Powell, and had managed to go for 14 years without issuing a report. (I was a participant from 2002 to 2008, joining the Russian Quartet representative, the UN representative, and at every meeting a large group of Europeans–representing the EU Council, the EU Commission, the EU foreign minister, and so on. Videos of the EU delegation to the Quartet might have enlarged considerably the Brexit vote in the UK.)
This report actually has some very good aspects, but in the end does not manage to go beyond the conventional wisdom.
The report contains a powerful denunciation of terrorism, and a strong discussion of “incitement”, meaning the ways the Palestinian authorities glorify terror and the murder of Israelis. Here is part of that section:
Incitement to Violence. Palestinians who commit terrorist attacks are often glorified publicly as “heroic martyrs.” Many widely circulated images depict individuals committing terrorist acts with slogans encouraging violence. The spreading of incitement to violence on social media has gained momentum since October 2015, and is particularly affecting the youth….
Some members of Fatah have publicly supported attacks and their perpetrators, as well as encouraged violent confrontation. In the midst of this recent wave of violence, a senior Fatah official referred to perpetrators as “heroes and a crown on the head of every Palestinian.” Fatah social media has shown attackers superimposed next to Palestinian leaders following terrorist attacks.
The Palestinian Authority leadership has repeatedly made statements expressing opposition to violence against civilians and senior officials have publicly maintained a commitment to non-violent resistance. Regrettably, however, Palestinian leaders have not consistently and clearly condemned specific terrorist attacks. And streets, squares and schools have been named after Palestinians who have committed acts of terrorism.”Middle East Quartet Report to UN Security Council
I do not recall seeing as candid a statement about Palestinian incitement in any UN document before.
The report also occasionally includes a sensible statement that, if pursued, might lead somewhere. Here’s an example:
The Quartet stresses that while a permanent status agreement that ends the conflict can only be achieved through direct bilateral negotiations, important progress can be made now towards advancing the two-state solution on the ground.”Middle East Quartet Report to UN Security Council
In English (which is not exactly the language in use at the UN) this sentence can be translated thus: the negotiations are going nowhere and everyone knows it, so let’s concentrate on pragmatic steps that might actually be taken. Were the Quartet, and the EU and United States, to do this, Palestinians and Israelis would be better off. In fact the main problem with this report is that it is all about what’s “hurting the peace process,” when in fact there is no peace process. There hasn’t been one since 2008, when PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer from Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, and 2009, when the Obama administration set a total construction freeze as a precondition for direct negotiations.
The report continues an old pattern of equating morally the construction of a home and the murder of an Israeli civilian. It does this in several ways. The very first sentence quoted above shows this: the problems are violence and terror and settlement expansion, you see. I build a bedroom, you murder a child in her bed; we are in the eyes of the Quartet apparently equal obstacles to “the peace process.” It is perhaps unfortunate for the Quartet but gives a deep insight into what is really preventing peace that the report was presented the day the following happened:
Hallel Yaffa Ariel, a 13-year-old American citizen, was stabbed to death while she was in her bed in Israel. According to the State Department, a 17-year-old Palestinian assailant allegedly broke into her home in the West Bank and killed her before he was shot by security guards.”
There was another attack, same day, near Hebron, that killed a father and injured his wife and children in their car, which came the day after an attack in Netanya…and on and on it goes. It should be possible for the Quartet and for UN bodies to express opposition to settlement expansion without equating it with terrorism and murder. The “peace process” will go nowhere until such terror stops, and until the Palestinian Authority insists on what the Quartet correctly demands: an end to the incitement of and reward for murder.
Elliott Abrams is a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies for the Council on Foreign Relations, He served in foreign policy positions for US Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations. Reprinted with permission.