Friday, March 19, 2010

Quartet Sings Off Key

If mere words matter, then the just-concluded Mideast Quartet meeting had some value. Do they?
The Quartet statement is out. Netanyahu’s refusal to return Clinton’s phone call cost him nothing. With Washington still evidently lying down patiently waiting to be kicked again, the Quartet meeting hardly seems to matter. The statement calls for talks leading to an “independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state” and “urges:”

the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, dismantle outposts erected since March 2001; and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem.

Carefully avoiding the assumption of any responsibility, it only “urges” Israel to do what it has made clear it will not do, imposes no penalties for Israel’s recalcitrance to date. Worse, it does not even clearly demand the end to the criminal imposition of collective punishment on the population of Gaza, though it does give a nod in that direction as a goal for the future(!).

The words are not bad, perhaps even a bit of a step ahead. The definition of the proposed Palestinian state is pretty solid as a slogan, though there are of course no details. But it is still just words, and there is nothing to stop Netanyahu from thanking the Quartet for taking the words out of his mouth and proposing to discuss…forever…exactly those fine principles.

If the Quartet statement had teeth, say, economic sanctions against Israel for any violation (e.g., demolitions in East Jerusalem or new settlement), then the situation would be totally different; then, the Quartet would be changing reality. As it stands, it is not clear that this statement contributes much. But with the members (except Ban) all representing pro-Israeli states--with not even a Turkey, much less an Iran at the table, could one have anticipated more?

Evidence demonstrating that the above assessment is too pessimistic will be received with pleasure.

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