The Quartet Has Its Uses
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
International bodies are useful for America, but only if the country dominates them. Case in point: the Middle East Quartet, which includes the European Union, Russia, the United Nations, and America.
The international forum was set up to implement the road map, drawn up by the Bush administration to assure the emergence of a peaceful, Palestinian Arab democracy next to a secure Israel. The Quartet remains active, even though that map no longer accurately reflects the Middle East’s topography.
“The road map is dead. We haven’t announced it officially yet because some of the family members have not been notified,” a Quartet diplomat told me recently, making sure the quip would remain anonymous.
The Quartet, in which U.N. membership is minor, might still be used effectively, however. This is not the case at Turtle Bay. The General Assembly has become a joke, and it is increasingly difficult to unite the Security Council behind policies that make sense to Washington.
The road map was premised on the idea that a new state would come out of negotiations between Israel and elected Palestinian Arab officials. Hamas won the January, 2006 vote, and even Europeans realized that elected terrorists should not be treated as are other victors of a democratic process.
Before it can be accepted as a negotiating partner, Hamas must recognize Israel, renounce violence, and affirm all past signed agreements, the Quartet announced, turning a formula pushed by Jerusalem and Washington into international policy.
Israel has long ago given up on finding a negotiation partner. Instead, in the last two years it has devised a plan to separate itself from most Palestinian Arabs by unilaterally defining new borders. It began doing so in Gaza during the summer, and plans to continue in the West Bank. Like the 1981 bombing of Saddam’s Osirak nuclear plant, most of the world publicly denounces the unilateral separation plan, knowing privately that it is the only sensible course.
“I would just note that the disengagement from Gaza, which was in fact a unilateral decision by Israel, in fact led to the first return of territory to the Palestinians in this entire period of time, and that was a very good thing,” Secretary of State Rice told me at a news conference last week. America and its Quartet partners, however, prefer to maintain a facade, saying that, for the time being, a much-weakened Mahmoud Abbas represents a viable negotiation partner.
Playing the game, Prime Minister Olmert announced in March during his election night victory speech that he would extend his hand to negotiations with Mr. Abbas. He made clear, however, that the invitation – largely assumed in Israel to be an empty gesture – bore an expiration date. Next week, when Mr. Olmert visits the White House, Israeli and American officials intend to choreograph the transition from pretense of negotiations to unilateral action that will transform the Israeli-Arab dispute.
In all of this, the Quartet mostly plays the role of spectator. Last week, however, it found a useful role.
Mr. Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, were faced with the delicate problem of how to marshal the international isolation of Hamas without starving the population that elected it. The prime minister and his colleagues know Israel, rather than Hamas, would be blamed for the well-covered humanitarian descent in the territories. Under E.U. pressure, the Quartet announced it would establish an international fund that would transfer money directly to the needy population, bypassing Hamas government officials.
The details, on which the plan would rise or fall, have yet to be worked out, but Israeli officials already have greeted it with a qualified welcome. Left to their own devices Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations quickly and gleefully would end the Hamas isolation, extending international legitimacy to the terrorists, a well-placed Israeli official told me. As members of an American-led forum, “they must behave more responsibly.”
America was recently forced to compromise key policy objectives on Iran, Lebanon, and Sudan at the Security Council. Its steadfast resolve to keep the Israeli-Arab dispute outside council discussions sired the Quartet, where as of yet Washington’s driver’s-seat position is recognized by the other members.
The Quartet is far from ideal, but it is better than any existing Turtle Bay dysfunctional forums. As Johns Hopkins University’s Ruth Wedgwood recently wrote, the aging world body could use some competition in the multilateral arena. Better yet, how about marginalizing the United Nations by making it a junior partner?