Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

No Quarter for the Quartet!

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

No Quarter for the Quartet!

Article excerpt

The Quartet was originally set up to persuade a recalcitrant Israel to allow the United Nations to have a role in the peace process. It was also an oblique American token recognition of Russia's vestigial Great Power status, which allowed it a squeaky wheel in the peace process, if not an actual hand on the helm. Comprising the European Union, Russian and American leaders, along with the U.N. secretary-general, the Quartet's function was to encapsulate U.N. influence and isolate it from the corpus of decisions made by the U.N. membership. The U.N. members, even after the fall of the Berlin wall, were, of course, much less amenable to U.S. congressional pressure, and thus AIPAC's influence.

Like any institution, the Quartet has changed over the years, but its main purpose has been to preserve the appearance of "doing something" about the Middle East, while avoiding doing anything that could produce practical results-above all putting any form of pressure on Israel.

It drew up the famous roadmap, then went along complaisantly when Israel, with American support, crumpled it into an origame finger pointed at the Palestinians. Then it watched, apparently hypnotized, as the peace process stopped proceeding. It had a brief moment after the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla-but even then its main function was providing some diplomatic relief for Israel, rescuing it from the international consequences of its own aggressive actions.

Throughout, the Quartet has been a classic fob offfor the international public, giving the appearance of action, but none of the reality. Its unique structure of two Security Council members and two multilateral organizations gives it a permanent fudge factor. It was a fascinating display of fuzzy diplomacy, as the Quartet adopted increasingly vacuous lowest-common-denominator positions-which Washington then ignored. The other members of the Quartet did not want a public display of their impotence, so they let the Americans, and by extension the Israelis, get away with it unchallenged.

It then developed a new function-how to express U.S. gratitude to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his unstinting support of the illegal war on Iraq. As the Quartet's special envoy, the oleaginous Blair, the most overtly pro-Israeli of recent British prime ministers, was allowed a prominent place on the world stage-and, according to contemporary news reports, the U.S. State Department paid his salary and expenses.

It is a measure of how ethical standards worldwide have slipped that there is little or no public outrage that a former British prime minister should be able to masquerade under quasi-U.N. auspices while being paid for by the Americans, usually to do the bidding of the Likudnik govenment of Israel. Blair's job, in which he officially succeeded former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, is to boost the Palestinian economy. However, while Wolfensohn was occasionally outspoken when exasperated by Israeli frustration of economic growth, Blair has sedulously avoided doing anything that would inhibit his income stream from the Americans and all his sundry highly paid speaking engagments.

It is true that in June Blair declared independence of Israel by confirming support for the new Palestinian coalition goverment, but after all it is Washington that pays his bills, and Kerry also has shown considerable exasperation with Israeli inconsistencies over the peace process. …

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