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(photo credit: AP)
Diplomacy is often a glacial process in which nuances and phrases introduced in formal statements signal significant shifts.
It is telling, therefore, to look at Friday's Quartet statement and pay attention to a few new phrases that found their way into the text and seem to indicate the direction in which the international community is headed regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The third paragraph of the statement reads as follows: "Recognizing the critical need to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which would contribute to security and stability in the region, the Quartet pledged to support efforts to put in place a process with the goal of ending the occupation that began in 1967 and creating an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel, and reaffirmed its commitment to a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338."
There are two telling new elements in that paragraph. The first is the phrase "Recognizing the critical need to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which would contribute to security and stability in the region." The insertion of this phrase must be seen within the context of the chorus of voices, primarily in Europe but also in the US, saying that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a key to regional stability.
What is interesting about the statement's wording is that while it does acknowledge that ending the conflict would contribute to the regional stability, it does not state that solving the conflict would bring about stability, or that the conflict is the cause of regional instability.
This seems a compromise between those arguing that one could solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without ending the other regional disputes, and those saying that Israeli-Palestinian strife is at the heart of all conflicts in the Middle East.
Another new phrase in that paragraph is: "[The] Quartet pledged to support efforts to put in place a process with the goal of ending the occupation that began in 1967 and creating an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace."
"Ending the occupation that began in 1967" appeared in a recent statement put out by EU foreign ministers and seems to indicate two things: 1) It defines "occupation" as what happened following the Six Day War, and not - as Hamas would argue - the very existence of Israel since 1948, and 2) it makes clear that the existence of a Palestinian state would have to entail an end to "the occupation began in 1967" - meaning a return to the pre-1967 border.
The seventh paragraph of the Quartet text reads: "The Quartet welcomed the upcoming meeting between Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert, [PA Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that could begin to define more clearly the political horizon for the Palestinian people, and help engender a sense of partnership. The Quartet affirmed the primacy of the road map, and welcomed US efforts to accelerate progress on the road map."
This paragraph now formalizes as part of the diplomatic landscape an idea Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni first floated in December about the need to provide the Palestinians with a rough idea of a final status agreement that could be achieved if they would reject Hamas and the extremists in their midst.
The language the Quartet adopted, however, was precise. Because immediately after talking about the political horizon, it "affirmed the primacy" of the road map, meaning that the political horizon comes to supplement the road map, not bury it.