Following the formation of a Palestinian unity government between Fatah and Hamas, and the Arab League summit which revived King Abdullah’s peace plan of 2002, it is time for the so-called Middle East Quartet, consisting of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations, and the United States, to get into action. The Quartet has been dormant since 2000, because any peace process requires negotiations between the parties in conflict.
Instead, the region has witnessed a policy of unilateral steps. Some measures – Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and from the Gaza Strip in 2005, or Hamas’ year-long ceasefire – might be seen as constructive. But, however positive their aims, these steps were taken without consulting the opposite side, thereby entrenching the perception that no partner existed.
By the summer of 2006, with the Lebanon war and Israel’s reoccupation of the Gaza strip, the failure of unilateralism was clear. Today, we know that only a political process that takes each party’s legitimate national interests into account can reduce the risk of renewed violent conflict in the Middle East.
Four steps are needed to restart such a process. The first step, revival of the Quartet, has already been taken. The Quartet remains the most appropriate format, as it combines European ideas and service with UN legitimacy and US leadership. It binds Russia and includes few enough participants to take quick decisions when necessary.