Monday, July 28, 2014
No Quarter for the Quartet!
WRMEA, August 2014, Pages 11, 17
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 off for 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.
In the end, however, apart from keeping Tony Blair busy, the Quartet’s only achievement has been preservation of its own unity—a singularly useless feat. It is time to dissolve it, bury it, burn it and force the various parties to state their own positions and hold on to them.
In other news, Ban Ki-moon has just appointed Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, one of the most dynamic and effective of Arab diplomats, to replace South African Navi Pillay as High Commissioner for Human Rights. Being quite effective herself explains why Pillay was reappointed for only two years instead of the usual four. Like almost every other previous incumbent, she fell foul of the U.S. for being outspoken about human rights violations around the world including, of course, Israel.
The U.S. double standard on Israel, which includes ignoring the State Department’s own reports, provides cover for many of the Arab nations’ double standards, which in turn gives Israel’s supporters cover for pointing out those double standards. While it would be difficult to claim the Hashemites as paragons of human rights, they tend to be less worse than many of their neighbors, and Prince Zeid, who represented Jordan at the U.N., has played as good a hand as he could with the constraints of representing his government. More to the point is that he has consistently supported initiatives in support of international justice, notably the International Criminal Court.
While looking at international justice, yet another report ignored by the U.S. was that of “the U.N. Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.” It expressed grave concerns about the reported worsening health conditions of more than 75 Palestinian detainees on hunger strike now in hospital protesting Israel’s continued use of administrative detention.
The fact-finding commission called on Israel to accede to the demand of the hunger strikers to end the practice of arbitrary administrative detention of Palestinians. “It is a desperate plea by these detainees to be afforded a very basic standard of due process: to know what they are accused of and to be able to defend themselves,” said the committee.
Compared with worldwide attention to, say, Irish hunger strikers, it is almost unreported that a first group of around 100 Palestinian administrative detainees launched a peaceful protest on April 24 and since have been joined by a couple of hundred more. The committee pointed out that “International humanitarian law only exceptionally allows for the use of administrative detention, yet the Israeli authorities have detained a large number of Palestinians for reasons not explicitly indicated. Initial administrative detention orders of six-month periods can be renewed an indefinite number of times without producing charges.”Included among those imprisoned under Israeli administrative detention are no fewer than eight elected Palestinian legislators. So much for bringing democracy to the Middle East! ❑