Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have rejected a report by the so-called Middle East Quartet – comprising the UN, Russia, the United States and the European Union – which urged both parties to indulge in “meaningful negotiations that resolve all final status issues.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the report, saying that it “perpetuates the myth that Israeli construction in the West Bank is an obstacle to peace.” The Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly said the report doesn’t meet the Palestinians’ expectations “as a nation living under a foreign colonial military occupation.”
The report was released on July 1, two days after the killing of a 13-year-old girl by a Palestinian youth. It calls on Israel and Palestine to “independently demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to the two-state solution” and to “refrain from unilateral steps that prejudice the outcome of the final negotiations”.
Subsequent to the publication of the report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked Israel and the Palestine Authority to engage with the Quartet to implement the findings “to rebuild hope among Palestinians and Israelis in a political solution and to create the conditions to return to meaningful negotiations”.
Ban underscored that there is a strong need for affirmative steps to reverse negative trends on the ground which risk entrenching a One-State reality of “perpetual occupation and conflict” that is incompatible with the national aspirations of both peoples.
This position was further cemented by the passage of Security Council Resolution 2334 passed on December 23, 2016, which states that the establishment of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, have “no legal validity,” constitute a “flagrant violation” under international law and are a “major obstacle” to a Two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.
The Quartet has worked on the report since February 2016. In its initial meeting in Munich it reiterated its concern that current trends are imperiling the viability of the two-state solution. Underlining its commitment to supporting a comprehensive, just, and lasting resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Quartet agreed to prepare a report on the situation on the ground.
According to the Quartet, a negotiated two-state outcome is the only way to achieve an enduring peace that meets Israeli security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, ends the occupation that began in 1967, and resolves all permanent status issues. A two-state solution implies the existence of the State of Israel and State of Palestine within pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
The report is the first of its kind, which analyses the impediments to a lasting resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and offers recommendations on the way forward, urging Israel to stop its settlement policy and Palestine to end incitement to violence.
The report provides recommendations to what it has identified as the major threats to achieving a negotiated peace: continued violence, terrorist attacks against civilians and incitement to violence; settlement construction and expansion; and the Palestinian Authority’s lack of control in Gaza.
The Diplomatic Quartet’s main recommendations as articulated by the Quartet are:
“Both sides should work to de-escalate tensions by exercising restraint and refraining from provocative actions and rhetoric.
The Palestinian Authority should act decisively and take all steps within its capacity to cease incitement to violence and strengthen ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including by clearly condemning all acts of terrorism.
Israel should cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, designating land for exclusive Israeli use, and denying Palestinian development.
Israel should implement positive and significant policy shifts, including transferring powers and responsibilities in Area C, consistent with the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority contemplated by prior agreements. Progress in the areas of housing, water, energy, communications, agriculture, and natural resources, along with significantly easing Palestinian movement restrictions, can be made while respecting Israel’s legitimate security needs.
The Palestinian leadership should continue their efforts to strengthen institutions, improve governance, and develop a sustainable economy. Israel should take all necessary steps to enable this process, in line with the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee recommendations.
All sides must continue to respect the ceasefire in Gaza, and the illicit arms buildup and militant activities must be terminated.”
Further to these recommendations, the Quartet encourages the international community to accelerate its efforts to address the “dire” humanitarian, reconstruction and recovery needs of the people in Gaza, including expediting the disbursement of assistance pledges.
The Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said it is now time for both the Israelis and the Palestinians to rise to the challenge in a brief to the UN Security Council a few days before the report released.
The importance of the Quartet’s report is underlined by statements from China and Russia in stressing the primacy of the Middle East Quartet in assisting efforts towards a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told UN Secretary-General Ban that Beijing is willing to work closely with the UN to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Wang stated that China firmly supports the peace process in the Middle East, the two-state solution as the basis of the Palestinian question, the resumption of peace talks, and the role of the Middle East Quartet.
The Chinese statements were made in June 2016, at an international conference which was hosted by France, and was joined by representatives of the UN, Arab League, members of the Middle East Quartet and foreign ministers from around 20 countries. It aimed at finding ways to revive the peace process between two sides. South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry were among those who participated.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who is also Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for the Middle East, warned that “we are fast approaching the point of no return”.
“The pause in the political dialogue between the parties is far too long. The two-state solution is jeopardized. Although it has not been removed from the agenda, the prospects of a just settlement on the internationally recognized legal basis are virtually fading away before our very eyes,” Bogdanov said.
Russia has also warned that the “divisions among the Palestinians” are an “impediment” to the peace process. “This issue should be prioritized to ensure that the Palestinians are represented in the negotiations on the final status by a single united delegation,” the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said.
In January 2016, In Egypt, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the establishment of a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, adding that the Palestinian problem “should not be marginalised” and he stated further:
“China supports the peaceful process in the Middle East [and] the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital being eastern Jerusalem.”
The Chinese view is shared by other BRICS countries that include Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa. They too have backed the two-state solution for the conflict at international forums including the UN. In an age of rebalancing power, this validation has important geopolitical implications.