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December 4, 2015 4:17 am

It’s Time to Drop the Quartet and Embrace the Arab Peace Initiative

avatar by Alon Ben-Meir

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (second from left) with Quartet Representative Tony Blair (left), UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (center), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (fourth from left), and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton. Photo: wiki commons.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (second from left) with Quartet Representative Tony Blair (left), UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (center), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (fourth from left), and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton. Photo: wiki commons.

During several meetings I recently had with EU officials in Brussels, they argued that it is time to revive the Middle East Quartet, which consists of the US, EU, Russia, and the UN, to resurrect the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. I took the opposite position because I believe that the Quartet failed from the onset to breathe new life into the peace negotiations; in fact, it has become a major impediment to the peace process.

The Quartet’s three preconditions, which require Hamas to recognize Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations, and forsake violence before it can become a legitimate partner in the peace talks, are outdated and impractical because these preconditions are tantamount to surrender.

The Quartet’s demands on Hamas make it impossible for its leadership to negotiate under those terms — and without Hamas’ full participation as an integral part of the Palestinian delegation, no Israeli-Palestinian peace can endure even if achieved.

In fact, any Israeli leader who genuinely seeks a peace agreement should not demand that Hamas first meet the Quartet’s requirements. Having suffered the indignities of the blockade for so long, even if Hamas agreed to negotiate under duress from its current position of weakness a peace agreement or a long-term ceasefire (hudna), it would only be a question of time when they will rise again to reclaim their dignity.

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Netanyahu supports the Quartet’s preconditions because he knows full well that Hamas will not accept them. Thus, the Quartet has de facto been providing Netanyahu with the political cover he needs to forestall any substantive negotiations, claiming that the Palestinians are bent on destroying Israel while playing Hamas against the PA and vice versa.

Although it is unlikely that the Obama administration will push for the resumption of peace talks during an election year, 2016 does provide a unique opportunity for the US and the EU, who are the only effective players in the Quartet, to pave the way for serious negotiations in 2017 and beyond, provided that they make the Arab Peace Initiative (API) framework (not the Quartet’s) central to any future talks.

Contrary to the prevailing view among many Israelis, the API has not been presented to Israel on a take it or leave it basis, and it provides several common denominators between Hamas and Israel to achieve a two-state solution while offering Hamas a face-saving way out.

The US and the EU can persuade several Arab/Muslim states, especially Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and Turkey, who enjoy considerable influence on Hamas, to exert political and material pressure on its leadership to formally adopt the API.

On more than one occasion (including in 2011, 2013, and 2014), Hamas clearly stated that it is willing to negotiate a peace agreement with provisions almost identical to the API. Hamas understands that Israel is there to stay and is now looking for ways to further ease the blockade and eventually lift it altogether, which can be facilitated in the context of the API.

In the same vein, the US along with the EU should relentlessly exert intense pressure on Israel to embrace the API as well. Currently, thousands of Israeli notables, including former President Peres, Yuval Rabin (the son of Yitzhak Rabin), former heads of security agencies including ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan, much of the academic community, think tanks, retired generals, and more than half of the Israeli public support the API.

A poll commissioned by the Israel Peace Initiative in 2013 found that 55 percent of respondents support the API; that jumps to 69% if it is supported by the prime minister.

Moreover, there are several political parties in the opposition who view the API as central to reaching an enduring peace. Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, recently stated: “Convening a regional conference as the opening shot for a comprehensive regional arrangement is the most effective tactical and political tool for getting this process going. The framework of the discussions at this conference must be the Saudi-Arab initiative [the API] of 2002.”

The Initiative makes recognition of Israel conditioned upon Israel’s acceptance of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with some land swaps, agreed upon between Arab foreign ministers and Secretary of State John Kerry. In addition, the API would open the door for Hamas to return to the Arab states’ fold and no longer be labeled as a terrorist organization.

Indeed, Hamas is not a terrorist organization by any classic definition because many countries, including Brazil, Switzerland, Qatar, and Turkey, transact with Hamas as a normal entity. Israel itself deals with Hamas daily and on many fronts, including trade, travel, and tacitly on matters of security concerns, to maintain the informal ceasefire.

The adoption of the API by both Israel and Hamas will be a game changer, especially now that the Arab states are more disposed to normalize relations with Israel because of the regional turmoil and because both Israel and the Arab states have a common enemy in Iran.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is becoming ever more intractable each passing day. It is time for the US and the EU to chart a new path and disabuse themselves of the notion that they must stick to past frameworks for peace, especially the Quartet, when in fact it has not advanced the peace process one single iota.

Times have changed; the Quartet was defunct from day one, and it will not succeed now by trying to resuscitate it. Instead, the focus must be on the universality of the API, around which a majority of Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the Arab states and the international community, can rally.

Israelis and Palestinians alike must focus throughout 2016 to assuage the psychological barrier by taking reconciliatory measures with the support and the encouragement of the US and the EU and pave the way for the resumption of credible peace negotiations with unwavering commitment.

Such commitment could lead to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement in the context of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, which the Israelis seek and only the API can provide.

The Quartet must be abandoned in favor of the API, which has been gaining momentum in recent months absent any other viable alternative framework for peace.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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  • “We must be ready to sacrifice all for our country Israel. For history does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid. We must continue to acquire proficiency in defense and display determination and stamina in purpose.” Never surrender – we are fighting for our survival and the alternative is extinction.
    Israel’s mission first and foremost is to take care of the Jewish people and insure their safety and security in Israel. Israel’s obligation is to its Jewish People and not to pacify the world at large. The historical facts are that for thousands of years the world at large has always persecuted the Jewish people and stood idle while millions of Jews are exterminated and persecuted.
    Right now we are in a badly separated, internally struggling, and bickering state both within Israel and also in the Diaspora. And our enemies are happily latching onto this internal fragmentation exploiting us against each other and leading successful campaigns against us on all fronts.
    No political wisdom, trickery; neither weapons and a mighty army can save Israel or Jews worldwide unless we rise above our differences, above our argumentative nature and form a single united Nation that is impenetrable.
    And that wouldn’t just save us but would blaze a trail of hope for others in this crazy world where there are no allies or friends any more only enemies waiting for the opportunity to destroy each other.
    We may not agree on everything, but we must respect each other and work together for our common goal which is survival in this hostile world which is on a spiraling deterioration.
    “A United Israel is a Strong Israel” Unity above all is our key to survival.
    YJ Draiman

  • Abbushuki

    The author is an extreme leftist who believes Israel should finally surrender instead of enjoying its victories in all the wars the Arabs initiated to exterminate the Jewish kafirs in their midst. His blind faith in pacifism is blind to reality and if nothing else, his article demonstrates just how ignorant is the left.

  • Today, we hear a lot of talk about how Jerusalem should be split, – one half surrendered to Muslims, while the other half remains a mixed Muslim/Jewish city in Israel. If this is the appropriate diplomatic way of turning back the clock, and ensuring peace between Muslims and Jews, then why not try out this solution with Medina first–a city that was originally Jewish?
    Although the fact is little publicized, the Arab world’s second holiest city, Medina, was one of the allegedly “purely Arab” cities that actually was first settled by Jewish tribes. 1 History shows that Judaism was already well established in Medina two centuries before Muhammad’s birth.
    On page 40, of his book “Arabs In History”, Bernard Lewis writes:
    “The city of Medina, some 280 miles north of Mecca, had originally been settled by Jewish tribes from the north, … The comparative richness of the town attracted an infiltration of pagan Arabs who came at first as clients of the Jews and ultimately succeeded in dominating them. Medina, or, as it was known before Islam, Yathrib, had no form of stable government at all. The town was tom by the feuds of the rival Arab tribes of Aus and Khazraj, with the Jews maintaining an uneasy balance of power. The latter, engaged mainly in agriculture and handicrafts, were economically and culturally superior to the Arabs, and were consequently disliked…. as soon as the Arabs had attained unity through the agency of Muhammad they attacked and ultimately eliminated the Jews.”
    The number of Jews in Medina swelled following the Roman invasion of Israel – the subsequent expulsion of its Jewish population, and from Jews fleeing persecution in Persia2. These refugees were assimilated into the three major Jewish tribes in Medina: the Banu Nadir, the Banu Quynuqua, and the Banu Quraiza. When these Jews resettled in Medina, they took with them a superior knowledge of agriculture, irrigation, and industry. Homeless Jewish refugees in the course of a few generations became large landowners in the country. In addition, the refugees who had come from Israel quickly became the controllers of its finance and trade. This new Jewish prosperity also quickly became a direct challenge to the Arabs of the region, particularly the Quraysh at Mecca (of which Mohammad was a member) and other Arab tribes in Medina.
    According to Alfred Guillaume,
    At the dawn of Islam the Jews dominated the economic life of the Hijaz [Arabia]. They held all the best land … ; at Medina they must have formed at least half of the population. There was also a Jewish settlement to the north of the Gulf of Aqaba…. What is important is to note that the Jews of the Hijaz made many proselytes [or converts] among the Arab tribesmen.5
    To add fuel to this fire, the Jews, strong in their faith in G-d, refused to accept Mohammad’s claims to be the final prophet. In response, a precedent was established by Muhammad among Arab-Muslims to expropriate that which belonged to the Jews of Medina.

  • “I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore”

    How many Jewish lives have to be lost before the Israeli government takes a decisive action, no holds barred and zero tolerance? Death to the terrorists and no restraint to terror and violence. A terrorist is a terrorist; the age of the terrorist does not mitigate an act of terrorism, or the consequences thereof. Israel must execute mandatory eviction and demolition of homes, confiscation of property to compensate for the damage and barring Arabs in those areas. Let the Arabs know that if this terror and violence continues, the price will be high and non-negotiable. Stop talking; let’s see some serious action on the ground. This situation is spiraling out of control and the government and its security forces are deliberating and hesitating to take forceful and uncompromising actions. The Israeli government must consider first and foremost the safety and security of its people and not the biased world nations, who throughout history stood idle while Jews were killed, tortured, terrorized and persecuted. Israeli people are trained soldiers; they know how to defend themselves. If the government is not able to stop this wave of terror, it is the Job of the Israelis to defend themselves. This is not Nazi Germany; this is Israel, our own historical land with our own government and a strong defense force, use it and stop the ghetto mentality. Death to the terrorists, nothing less will suffice. May the lord support you in defending yourselves, but G-d helps those who help themselves. Israel must take a strong initiative once and for all.
    YJ Draiman

    P.S.
    Israel should give a 90 day notice the UN and the world at large that it intends to exercise its historical and international rights under the international law and treaties post WWI which are still in effect and have not been superseded. Under those treaties all of Palestine is in effect belongs to Israel. Israel will no longer tolerate the deceptive term of occupation by Israel; it is internationally guaranteed Jewish land liberated by Israel. It is the Arabs who are the occupiers.
    YJ Draiman

    Before Israel’s government forfeit Israel’s rights to the land and any other rights it must be put to a national vote.
    The Israeli government must not have the authority to relinquish Jewish land or other rights without a national vote by the people; this must be the law of the land. This also applies to any agreements or treaties that compromises and or promises that surrender Israel rights in any shape or form.

    According to International law and treaties of post WWI, which allocated over 5 million square miles of territory to the Arabs and the 75,000 square miles of Palestine to the Jewish people, Jordan and Gaza is part of Israel, since they were part of Palestine. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt stated that he would give land in the Sinai with ocean front for the Arab Palestinians. Whether Jordan likes it or not over 70% of its population is Arabs who call themselves Palestinians.
    (The UN has violated the law and the Charter of the UN by allocating Jewish territory under international law and treaties to Jordan. The UN Partition of Israel was also a violation of the UN Charter. Israel accepted, but the Arabs rejected the partition, that makes the UN partition recommendation of 1947 mute and meaningless.
    Israel was reconstituted in 1920 by International law and treaties, including the 1919 Faisal Weizmann Agreement. Israel took over sovereign control on May 14, 1947 after the British abandoned their obligation and the Jewish people became a majority in the land).
    People must remember that the Arab countries have terrorized, persecuted and expelled over a million Jewish families and confiscated all their assets, including over 120,000 square km. of land valued in the trillions of dollars, and most of those expelled Jewish families were resettled in Greater Israel. The Arabs expelled the million Jewish families from their Arab countries (after living there for over 2400 years, a thousand years before Islam was created), the million expelled Jewish families from Arab countries were resettled in Israel and now they want to expel them again from their own historical ancestral land.
    Let the Arabs from Israel relocate to the Jewish homes and land confiscated by the Arab countries.

    YJ Draiman

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