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Mideast Quartet Discusses Way Forward on Peace Process

  • Lisa Bryant

Israeli and Palestinian protesters with their respective flags (file photo montage)

Israeli and Palestinian protesters with their respective flags (file photo montage)

Two weeks after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally applied for statehood recognition at the United Nations, envoys of the so-called Middle East peace Quartet met in Brussels Sunday to plot a way forward. The talks came as one U.N. agency appears to be heading toward recognizing full Palestinian membership.

The Brussels talks among members of the Middle East Quartet - the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union - follow its call in September for stalled peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to resume within 30 days. The Quartet wants the two sides to reach a deal next year.

The Middle East peace process was top news at the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York last month, when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas formally applied to the Security Council for full U.N. membership. The United States has threatened to veto the bid, arguing that Palestinian statehood can only be achieved through direct peace talks with Israel. But in a September interview with the BBC, the Quartet's special representative Tony Blair sounded an optimistic note.

"Although there's a lot of sound and fury [and] obviously strong rhetoric in the General Assembly, there's also a very strong belief on the part of the international community that now is the time to get back to negotiations without pre-conditions."

Blair said the Quartet members are close to agreeing on details of peace negotiations. He said that would make it easier to bridge differences between Palestinians and Israelis once they actually sit down for talks.

But analyst Yossi Mekelberg, of the policy institute Chatham House and Regents College in London, says the Quartet has failed to forcefully push the two sides toward a peace settlement that includes all the major sticking points.

"If they can't actually make their will happen, who would? Either they come not only with another declaration but a timetable - set what the Quartet wants - and tell the Palestinians and Israelis…are you serious about it?.. if you're serious about it, really become serious about it."

Mekelberg also believes the Quartet needs to offer specific carrots and sticks to move the process forward.

"We are ready to support you. We'll finance any peace agreements [that] will be costly. We'll deal with the diplomatic implications of dealing with the refugees. We'll deal with the security issues …we'll provide you with all of this, if you're serious. But we'll also tell you what's going to happen if you're not serious."

U.S. President Barack Obama faces an election year in 2012, further complicating chances of reaching a meaningful peace agreement. But in Paris, the Palestinian push for recognition gained traction last week, when the board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization agreed to vote on Palestinian membership later this month.

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