Published on
the Independent/UK

Quartet 'Creating Power Vacuum' in Middle East

Donald Macintyre

Tony Blair, envoy for the Middle East Quartet, has been strongly criticised by NGOs (EPA)

The international community is "losing its grip" on the Middle East
peace process and failing to improve the appalling living conditions for
Palestinians, a group of leading NGOs charges today.

The international Quartet - consisting of the United States, European Union,
United Nations and Russia - is accused of creating a "vacuum of
leadership" as the aid agencies complain that "visible progress"
in the Middle East has "failed to materialise".

The report says that despite the Quartet saying in June that such progress was
vital to building confidence in the negotiating process, it has failed to
press home its own calls on Israel for a freeze on settlement building, an
improvement in the movement of Palestinian people and goods, and a revival
of the collapsed economy in Gaza.

On settlements it says there has been a "marked failure to hold the
Israeli authorities to their obligation under the [internationally agreed]
road map and international law". It urges the Quartet to go "beyond
rhetoric" and take "concrete steps" in the face of a "marked
acceleration" in settlement building since Israeli-Palestinian
negotiations were kick-started by the Annapolis summit last year.

The report, deliberately issued on the eve of a Quartet meeting tomorrow in
New York, seeks to expose a growing gap between the stated policies of the
international community on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and what it has
delivered in practice.

It says that on about half of the 10 specific recommendations which the
Quartet has made in recent months "there has been either no progress or
an actual deterioration". It says that "clearly a new approach is
warranted" and questions whether there is a future for the Quartet
unless there is a "swift and dramatic improvement" in its

The report also gives a distinctly cool review to the progress made by Mr
Blair since his appointment as envoy. Its argument that the international
community has "failed" in its objective of creating "a new
reality" for Palestinians by removing restrictions on movement and
access is largely reinforced by a new UN report saying that there has been a
net increase of 3.3 per cent in roadblocks on Palestinian movement since
April this year.

While the UN's Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the NGOs'
report acknowledge that, as Mr Blair's office said yesterday, "some key"
checkpoints and roadblocks have been lifted, the OCHA report says 65 per
cent of main routes to the most populated areas, are blocked or controlled
by an Israeli military checkpoint. But while acknowledging that Mr Blair was "very
successful" in raising funds at last year's Paris conference, the NGOs'
report complains this has not yet "succeeded in driving the prompt
delivery of projects nor improved the lives of Palestinians".

Saying that he has had "isolated successes" in implementing agreed
private-sector projects, the report says "the Quartet Representative's
approach to focus on short-term economic solutions, while the long-term
problems of closure and settlement expansion remain, dooms these types of
projects to failure."

The report acknowledges the "modest" success in securing permission
from Ehud Barak, Israel's Defence Minister, for a $20m (£11m) cash transfer
last month into Gaza for salaries to be paid and accepts that the
Blair-earmarked north Gaza sewage project may be completed, provided that
Israel allows another 70 iron pipes in before the winter rains. But it
strongly laments the Quartet's failure to fulfil its goal of kick-starting
economic activity in Gaza by relaxing the Israeli imposed embargo on
commercial imports and exports through its crossings.

It says that "scant progress" has been made in fulfilling most of a "precise
list" of measures put by Mr Blair to Israel to ease the life of
ordinary people in Gaza. The report does not mention current efforts by the
Palestinian security services to assume more control and responsibility in
the northern West Bank city of Jenin, strongly advocated by Mr Blair and
regarded by some local observers as the most potentially far-reaching
project of its kind.


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But it does acknowledge that "the improvement in law and order in the
West Bank is one of the few areas in which the Quartet's efforts have led to
some progress".

Moderate Palestinian leaders, including Salam Fayyad, the Ramallah-based Prime
Minister, have expressed increasing frustration that the advances made on
security by the Palestinian Authority have not been matched by efforts by
Israel to meet their own obligations under phase one of the road map. Israel
has acknowledged the progress made on law and order - for example in Jenin
and Nablus - by security forces, but they say they have a long way to go in
curbing militant factions like Hamas.

For its part, the report raises concerns over reports of "heavy-handed
policing" and "documented human rights abuses" by security
forces. Successive reports by human rights organisations, including Amnesty
and Human Rights Watch, have criticised the Fatah-dominated security forces
in the West Bank and their Hamas counterparts in Gaza for repressive methods
used against adherents of the other group.

Mr Blair's office insisted yesterday that in the West Bank, "the downward
slide of the past few years has been halted", and pointed to the
creation - acknowledged in the NGO report - to the new frequency allocated
to the new Wataniya mobile phone network.

But while saying that Israel had taken "welcome steps", it added: "Much
more could and should be done to take advantage of the momentum provided by
Palestinian and donor efforts. We have made some progress, but we need much,
much more."

Failing to deliver: The key issues

Settlements: Israel not being held to account for continued expansion
of the illegal settlements. The international community has spoken out about
settlements 18 times and yet settlement expansion is accelerating and taking
a drastic toll on Palestinian daily life.

Access and Movement: Negligible impact on stated goal of improving
Palestinians' ability to move freely in their own territory, to work, reach
schools or access basic services. Instead there has been a net increase in
the number of checkpoints, the extent of the barrier and restricted roads.

Gaza: Despite the cessation of violence in Gaza, the blockade remains
and there is no improvement in the stricken economy. Eight out ten of Gaza's
population remains dependent on aid and emergency relief projects have

Security: Modest success made by Palestinian authorities in improving
law and order in the West Bank. Israel has conceded that progress has been
made on security in cities of Jenin and Nablus. But continued human rights
abuses by Hamas and Fatah in Gaza and West Bank respectively.

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