Last Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted a Washington dinner
for Quartet representatives which, after some two and a half hours, ended
without the participants issuing any statement on how to move the diplomatic
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But all was not lost, quipped Russian Foreign Ministry
Sergei Lavrov, who attended along with EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton,
UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon and Quartet envoy Tony Blair: “The wine was
One of the reasons the Quartet was unable to issue a statement was
because Lavrov reportedly objected to a formula whereby the Quartet would have
endorsed renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on a return to the 1967
lines, with agreed upon swaps, and Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish
Lavrov – reflecting Russia’s desire to play to the Arab League –
wasn’t enamored of the Jewish state part of the equation.
And it wasn’t
According to Israeli officials, the EU’s Ashton came to the
meeting hoping to get the Quartet to call for a renewal of talks based on US
President Barack Obama’s parameters of the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed
swaps, but without other language Obama used during his two Middle East speeches
in May: language much more amenable to Israel that affirmed the country as a
Jewish state and called for ironclad security arrangements before any future
What that Quartet dinner, and the lack of a statement
following desert, showed was that there were considerable gaps not only between
Israel and the Palestinians, but also between the Quartet members themselves
regarding how to jumpstart the diplomatic process.
Fast-forward a week to
Brussels, and the 27 EU foreign ministers meeting Monday
for their monthly
Unlike the Quartet, they emerged with a statement on the Middle
East “peace process,” but it was brief and rather anemic.
conclusions on the Middle East peace process issued after the 3,106th Foreign
Affairs Council meeting, the ministers stated that “The EU continues to believe
that urgent progress is needed toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict. The EU reiterates its concern at the continuing stalemate
in the Peace Process and calls on the parties to show the highest sense of
responsibility and to resume direct and substantive talks.
stresses the central role of the Quartet and fully supports the High
Representative [Ashton] in her continued efforts for the Quartet to create a
credible perspective for the relaunching of the peace process.
has set out and will continue to promote actively its position with regard to
parameters as contained in Council Conclusions of December 2009, December 2010
and May 2011.”
And that’s it.
One would have thought that with
September and the PA bid at the UN fast approaching, the EU would have clearly
stated the parameters it thought necessary for going back to talks; or make some
kind of clear comment on the Palestinian gambit; or issue a statement a bit more
dramatic than what was contained in these three mild paragraphs.
as the failure of the Quartet to issue a statement testified to its internal
divisions, so too the rather pallid EU statement bore witness to divisions
inside Europe regarding the process.
When 27 European foreign ministers
sit together and pound out resolutions, resolutions that are to be reached by
consensus, what emerges is generally the lowest common denominator, because only
that is what they can all rally around. And the lowest common denominator the
Europeans can agree upon right now regarding the diplomatic process is a
resumption of negotiations toward a two-state solution.
Everyone – from
Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic, Israel’s strongest supporters in the
body; to Ireland, Sweden and Portugal, the country’s biggest detractors – can
agree to that. But beyond that distinctly mom-and-apple-pie formulation, there
is little else to which they can affix their stamp of approval.
no consensus on whether the parameters for the talks should be Obama’s call for
the 1967 lines and mutually agreed swaps, or whether that formula would also
include Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, and security
While Ashton, according to Israeli sources, would be happy just
with the Obama 1967 lines comments, others – the Germans, Czechs, Danes, Dutch,
Italians, Romanians and Poles – want to see language that is also amenable to
Israel, language addressing the Jewish state and security
Ashton’s position is, according to Israeli sources, supported by
Spain, Portugal, Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Slovenia, Austria and Luxembourg,
with France – according to Israeli officials – leaning in that direction, but
not completely there yet.
Similar divisions exist on the Palestinian
state issue at the UN, with a vote in the General Assembly on the matter likely
to result in some EU countries voting for Israel, more voting for the
Palestinians, and the majority abstaining.
That these divisions exist and
are growing explains why Brussels issued a statement Monday that was – well –
not exactly a definitive policy statement on the “Middle East peace process.”