Having declared the Quartet a failure in the past, PA turns to it again

The Quartet is made up of representatives from the US, EU, Russia and the UN.

HEADED TOWARD conflict? Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh arrives for a cabinet meeting of the new Palestinian government, in Ramallah, earlier this week (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
HEADED TOWARD conflict? Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh arrives for a cabinet meeting of the new Palestinian government, in Ramallah, earlier this week
In December 2012, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who at the time was a senior aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Quartet – made up of representatives from the US, EU, Russia and the UN – was “useless, useless, useless.”
On Monday, the PA turned to the Quartet in a call to get re-involved in the diplomatic process, in a sign that shows how fundamentally the diplomatic sands have shifted.
“Always the statement of the Quartet really means nothing because it was always full of what they call constructive ambiguity that really took us to nowhere,” Shtayyeh was quoted as saying eight years ago in The Independent. “You need a mediator who is ready to engage and who is ready to say to the party who is destroying the peace process, ‘You are responsible for it.’”
For the Palestinians, the Quartet did not prove to be that party.  They hoped – in negotiations that then-secretary of state John Kerry kicked off in 2013 – that the US, led by president Barack Obama, would do so, and could “deliver” Israel.
They were disappointed. Neither Obama nor Kerry could “deliver” Israel, meaning they could not get Jerusalem to agree to facets of a peace deal that Israel’s government thought ran contrary to the country’s own interests, and Kerry’s much ballyhooed effort at solving the Middle East crisis in nine months fell apart when that nine-month deadline hit April 29, 2014.
There have been no negotiations since.
On Monday, however, with the possibility of Israel expanding its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank in the near future, the Palestinians – after years of waiting in vain for a more “amenable” prime minister to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with whom they could negotiate, and after four years of boycotting US President Donald Trump and his peace team – said they were interested in re-entering negotiations.
And they want to start off where the Kerry-led talks in 2014 broke down.
On June 9, Shtayyeh told foreign journalists that the PA had a four-and-a-half-page counterproposal to Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” the deal they vehemently opposed that would allow Israel to annex 30% of the West Bank, with the rest of the territory to be set aside for a future Palestinian state, if the Palestinians meet certain requirements. While Shtayyeh did not reveal details of the PA’s counterplan, AFP on Monday reported the Palestinians had written a letter to the Quartet outlining the plan’s parameters.
“No one has as much interest as the Palestinians in reaching a peace agreement and no one has as much to lose as the Palestinians in the absence of peace,” read the letter.
“We are ready to have our state with a limited number of weapons and a powerful police force to uphold law and order.” The letter said that it would accept ideas consistently rejected by Netanyahu, such as an international monitoring force – perhaps from NATO – to monitor compliance with an eventual peace agreement.
The letter also stipulated the Palestinians would accept “minor border changes that will have been mutually agreed, based on the borders of June 4, 1967.”
IT IS no coincidence that the Palestinians, who have long-lost confidence in the US as an honest broker, turned to the Quartet. Because as biased as the Palestinians feel the Trump administration is toward Israel, so too does Jerusalem view the EU, UN and Russia as one-sided toward the Palestinians.
The Palestinians are refusing to speak to the Trump administration because it does not support their goal of a state roughly along the 1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as their capital.
The EU, UN and Russia – on the other hand – have long ago accepted those terms as what is necessary for a Middle East peace agreement. So by the same logic the Palestinians have used for the last three years in boycotting Trump, so too would Israel seem to be within its rights in refusing to negotiate this matter with the EU, Russia or the UN because of their lack of evenhandedness.
In March 2012, a paper written by Khaled Elgindy and put out by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution titled “The Middle East Quartet: A Post-Mortem” concluded that the Quartet “has little to show for its decades long involvement in the peace process” and has reached “the limits of its utility.”
“The current mechanism is too outdated, dysfunctional, and discredited to be reformed,” the paper read. “Instead of undertaking another vain attempt to ‘reactivate’ the Quartet, the United States, the European Union, United Nations, and Russia should simply allow the existing mechanism to go quietly into the night.”
Yet, ironically, it is this very body that the Palestinians now have turned to and whom they want to take the lead in the diplomatic process.
And that is precisely the problem: 25 years of trying the same thing, through the same frameworks, yielded nothing. The Trump plan, as imperfect as it may be, is at least a different approach at solving the problem from a different angle. The Palestinians have refused to even discuss it.
Now, however, they have come up with a “counterplan” that seems essentially to want to try again – under Quartet auspices – what has failed on so many different occasions, also under Quartet auspices, in the past. What is unclear is why they think this same approach would magically work this time around.