U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell convened Wednesday in New York with his counterparts from Russia, the European Union and the United Nations making up the informal Quartet on the Middle East. They said no significant progress has been achieved on their road map to Middle East peace.
The meeting at U.N. headquarters was the first for the Quartet since May, and a statement issued at the end of the 75-minute meeting described the Israeli-Palestinian situation as extremely difficult and said no significant progress has been achieved on the peace road map.
The Quartet partners, Mr. Powell, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, ascribed blame to both of the Middle East parties.
They noted with deep concern that the Palestinians still lack an empowered prime minister and cabinet needed to fulfill the Palestinian Authority's road map obligations.
The expressed similar concern over the lack of action by Israel toward implementing its part of the road map, including a settlement freeze and the dismantling of settlement outposts put up since March, 2001.
Among other things, the Quartet also reiterated concerns expressed in May over the routing of Israel's West Bank separation barrier, though reaffirming their encouragement over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's intention to withdraw from all Gaza settlements and some in the West Bank.
Despite their dreary assessment, the Quartet partners pledged to remain engaged with the parties to achieve progress toward a just comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
At a news conference, Secretary of State Powell said this should include an active role by moderate Arab states in prodding both parties to act, and in particular persuading Yasser Arafat to cede real authority to Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.
"I hope that the Arab nations will be playing a role in encouraging the Palestinian Authority to empower a Prime Minister who can act for the Palestinian people, and to wrest power and authority away from Mr. Arafat so that somebody who can use that power and authority can be set up to do that. The President spoke clearly about our Middle East peace plan yesterday when he talked about the mutual obligations and commitments both parties have, the Palestinians and Israelis," he said.
In his policy speech to the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday, President Bush cited many of the same failures by the parties as did the Quartet, though he said that even with the frustrations and setbacks of recent months, goodwill and hard effort can still achieve the promise of the road map.
Secretary Powell has had bilateral meetings on the Middle East on the sidelines of the General Assembly with among others Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara and Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.
Mr. Shalom told reporters the Sharon government decided to act unilaterally with its disengagement plan because Palestinians failed to make good on their principal road map commitment to stop anti-Israel terrorism.
"In the road map,in phase one, it's written very clearly that the Palestinians should dismantle the infrastructure of terrorist organizations and put an end to terrorism and violence and incitement," he said. "The Palestinians were never willing to have even one meeting with the Israelis since Abu Ala, Ahmed Qureia, took his position as the new Palestinian prime minister. So what we are trying to do now is do it unilaterally. The prime minister of Israel has decided to come with his disengagement plan. He is very determined to implement it."
The Quartet statement said the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza should be full and complete and undertaken in a manner consistent with the road map, as a step toward a negotiated settlement of the conflict producing a viable, democratic and territorially-contiguous Palestinian state alongside Israel.