The major theme of the Middle East Quartet's meeting on September 26 in the context of the 58th session of the UN General Assembly had been known a few days prior to the event.
It was not to condemn Israel for its decision to send Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat into exile. It was not to continue the year-long discussion about whether or not it was necessary to exclude the Palestinian leader from the negotiation process, as the United States and Israel do. The agenda of the meeting was dedicated to the creation of a mechanism, which would mean making the Road Map obligatory for all the parties involved.
When the Quartet (the USA, EU, UN and Russia) was drawing up the Road Map, diplomats understood that it's implementation process was not going to be smooth. In the past ten years, neither the Palestinians, nor the Israelis have lived up to every letter of the agreements they have signed. The only provision of the Road Plan to have been implemented so far is the introduction of the post of Palestine National Authority Prime Minister. Diplomats have not achieved the main goal of the Road Map's first stage, i.e. an end to the violence and terror on the part of both Israel and Palestine.
Now, as a result of an internal conflict, PNA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has resigned, and later, after a series of terrorist attacks, the Israelis have decided to deport PNA leader Yasser Arafat. The media around the world has started talking about "death of the Road Map." However, diplomats are in no mood to agree with the media and have refused to bury the plan, which was co-ordinated with so much effort. As Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov put it, "currently, the Road Map is, perhaps, the only realistic programme of actions, which might help settle the conflict." Certainly, the mediators were left unhappy by Israeli's decision to deport Mr Arafat and the resignation of Mr Abbas. Having said this, neither of these moves came as a surprise.
However, the Israeli authorities have not taken the final decision on deporting Yasser Arafat and will probably not do so in the future. In his interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on September 26, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated that Israel would take into consideration the United States' concern over Mr Arafat's deportation, because the Israeli side realised it might cause problems for Americans in the Middle East.
On the opposite side of the conflict, the Palestinians have maintained the post of Prime Minister. Yasser Arafat appointed Ahmed Qorei as the successor to Mr Abbas. At present, the international mediators are waiting for the new premier to form a cabinet. Until then, there is no chance of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis being resumed.
Taking advantage of this unexpected pause, the Quartet discussed how to make the Road Map more effective. Apparently, its advisory character is a mistake that needs to be corrected. Despite the fact that both the Palestinians and Israelis (the latter with reservations) agreed to implement the plan during the June meeting between George Bush, Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan, the participating sides did not sign any obligatory agreements. Obviously, now is the time to take a more serious approach to this issue.
The creation of a mechanism to monitor the implementation of the Road Map is a daunting task. However, during a RIA Novosti interview, Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said, "an alternative situation, which does not imply the existence of mechanisms of control...does not suit our purposes either." The international community, diplomats point out, must have the leverage to influence the situation. One such mechanism might be the adoption of the Road Map as a UN Security Council resolution.
Russia, according to Igor Ivanov, "is prepared to discuss or even adopt the plan within the framework of the UN Security Council." However, this measure alone will not be enough. Until now, the Israelis and Palestinians have been violating or simply ignoring the UN Security Council resolutions without facing any significant consequences that would harm their interests. Perhaps, the UN Security Council must finally take decisive action and impose appropriate sanctions on both the Palestinians and Israelis, if they continue to violate the UN resolutions.
It has to be a co-ordinated decision, though. Europe has already attempted to implement economic sanctions against Israel, and the United State has refused to continue the dialogue with Palestinians. However, these actions have not worked, because Israel has always had a reliable trade partner, i.e. the United States, and the Palestinians have always enjoyed support from some of Europe and Moscow.
As to the monitoring mechanism, UN observers have been present on the territory of Israel and PNA for several years trying to exercise control over the implementation of prior agreements. However, they cannot really influence the situation. Moreover, they do not even have the authority to intervene in the confrontation.
Palestinians insist on the deployment of peacekeepers between the adversaries. Israel opposes the idea. The Israelis believe that peacekeepers will be unable to eliminate the terrorist network on Palestinian territory and will only prevent them from fighting the terrorist threat successfully. It is impossible to deploy a peacekeeping contingent in the region without a mutual agreement between Palestine and Israel. Moreover, it is not clear where such a contingent might be deployed, as the border between the two countries is not clearly defined, yet.
Sources in the Russian Foreign Ministry told RIA Novosti that "the possibility of an 'international presence' in the region must be certainly considered." Discussions about the form and the nature of this presence are just starting. And the New York meeting of the Quartet was one of these discussions.
On the eve of this event, a rather gloomy atmosphere reigned among the politicians gathered for the 58th session of the UN General Assembly. The settlement of the Middle East conflict, indeed, seems to be an unattainable goal.
However, although this has been the case for almost a hundred years, it did not prevent the creation of either the State of Israel or, later, the Palestinian National Authority. Israel has concluded peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and maintains quite a positive dialogue with other Arab countries. As to the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it has only been seriously approached in the last 10 years, which is no serious space of time for the Middle East. However, even with this in mind, the situation does need to be settled as soon as possible, because the number of its victims is growing every day.
Marianna Belenkaya, RIAN
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