The humbled and victorious quartet

The Middle East Quartet, comprised of some of the world's best diplomats, was in an obvious upbeat collective mood. Facing the UN-accredited media were Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. State Secretary Colin Powell, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and two representatives of the European Union - Mr. Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and Brian Cowen, Foreign Minister of Ireland, the country currently holding the rotating EU presidency.

All of them needed good news - any good news, in fact. That was why they were so happy to tell the world that after a two-hour meeting at Mr. Annan's office in the UN's headquarters in New York, they had got the Middle East peace process back on track and revived the almost-dead Road Map, showing to the Israelis and the Palestinians the way to go.

Mr. Annan and the Europeans are still grieving over the failure of the Cyprus reunification referendum, which demonstrated that the Greek community, the plaintiff in that 30-year-old case, did not see as fair the settlement plan proposed to them by the United Nations.

Mr. Lavrov and the Russian diplomacy in general were the ones who made the greatest effort to ensure that the New York meeting would take place - it was they who initiated it, actually. Hence the desire to achieve a tangible result.

There is no need to mention the predicament of Mr.

Powell, as regards the global scandal over alleged mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners and the need to strengthen the Coalition force from the current 115,000 service men and women to 135,000, among other misfortunes.

Now that the peace process has been restarted, the picture looks brighter for all of them. According to Mr. Lavrov, "It is fundamentally important that UN Security Council Resolution No. 1515, adopted at the initiative of the Russian Federation, should be acknowledged as an integral part of the regulatory base [of the peace process]. In this resolution, the international community recognises the roadmap as a binding instrument for a final settlement," Lavrov said.

The word "binding" indicates, incidentally, that Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel, has received a serious slap for his plan of unilateral actions in the Palestinian territory. In his statement, Mr. Kofi Annan applauded those parts of Sharon's plan that fit the Road Map while criticising the Israeli Premier for other parts, notably ones envisaging unilateral actions--on refugee and border issues in the first place--without prior consultations with the Palestinians. Since unilateral actions form the bulk of Mr. Sharon's plan, we can say that now the plan has been killed twice - first of all, by members of Mr. Sharon's own party who turned it down at a recent referendum and then by the Quartet.

In any case, as Secretary Powell said at the above-mentioned press- conference, "we don't know what Sharon will do". He will now have to come up with a new plan. But this time around, the Israeli leader won't be able to work it out on his own - the Quartet mediators are getting tougher vis-a-vis Sharon. According to the Russian foreign minister, it was decided at the New York meeting to create a practical mechanism for monitoring actions of the Middle Eastern conflicting sides and pressuring them "to fulfil their obligations and reach an agreement by way of negotiations on all issues of settlement." Both of the conflicting sides have obligations to meet, according to the statement. "We agreed that special envoys from all of the the Quartet countries would soon arrive in the region to start working with each of the parties," Sergei Lavrov said. "The monitoring mechanism will be a collective instrument, and will be mainly connected with our envoys' work." The Quartet also promised to boost, in cooperation with the World Bank, its economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority, contributing to administrative and political reforms in the PA-administered territories and to the elimination of the terrorist infrastructure there.

Thus, the best and the brightest in the global diplomacy wanted to show to the world that they indeed were capable of cooperating with one another in settling long-standing conflicts. They made it. There are, though, many other conflicts waiting for such an approach as was taken by the top diplomats, most of whom were yearning for a victory after a string of failures. In order to success, does one have to fail first?

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