The Arab Spring and the Iranian nuclear issue, the ramifications of the global financial crisis, the shifts of the Middle East’s status in US geo-strategic thinking, and the decline of the Palestinian issue down the list of concerns, were some of the most important developments affecting the Palestinian issue in 2012 and 2013.
The result was that 2012 and 2013, though impacting the Palestinian issue from other angles, brought structural change to the Middle East through the change of Arab regimes; the upheaval of the position of Islamic movements in Arab societies; the revival of sub-cultures in the Middle East; and a rising Russian-Chinese role paving the way for a new international order. This order is likely to range between multipolarity or at least unipolarity but without the hegemony seen previously.
Such radical transformations could mean that traditional forms of Palestinian action must take these changes into account.
To have a clear vision of this new international reality, we must first assess two dimensions: constant elements of the international scene on one hand, and the variables on the other, considering their impact on the Palestinian scene.
First: The Quartet
The diplomatic efforts of the Quartet on the Middle East (the UN, EU, US and Russia) failed to impose an international solution on the parties of the Arab-Israeli conflict in general, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular.
A review of the data related to statements by the Quartet shows that the international body continued to orbit around in the same circle it had been moving in for more than a decade. In effect, the level of the Quartet’s activity has not been consistent from year to year, and has been declining. Since 2002, the Quartet issued a total of 48 statements, as follows:
The Quartet issued three statements in 2012 and 2013, as follows:
1. Statement on 11/4/2012: Confirmed continued support for the PA’s institution-building program, and called on the international community to provide $1.1 billion to help the PA fulfill its commitments for 2012.
2. Statement on 30/7/2013: The Quartet welcomed the resumption of direct negotiations between the PA and Israel on 29/7/2013. The negotiations had been suspended since September 2010, following Israel’s rejection of a proposed freeze on settlement activity in the occupied territories. The Quartet confirmed in its statement support for efforts to reach a two-state solution within nine months. The Quartet welcomed the Arab League’s role in facilitating the resumption of the negotiations.
3. Statement on 27/9/2013: The Quartet stressed the need to observe the ceasefire reached on 21/11/2012 between the Palestinian resistance and Israel, and also emphasized the need to give attention to the humanitarian needs of GS.
Analyzing the general development of the Quartet’s role through its statements from 2002 to 2013 produces the following conclusions:
1. The activities of the Quartet were hindered by Israel’s resistance to “internationalizing” the Palestinian issue, as Israel sought to avoid having to confront an “international front” on some issues, such as settlements, human rights abuses and others. Israel preferred the bilateral approach (Palestine vs Israel) through direct negotiations, or through “US mediation,” because this allowed Israel to continue to take advantage of the balance of power that is skewed in its favor.
2. The Israelis had a desire to minimize the role of the UN and Russia (seen to be closer to the Palestinian position) on the one hand, and neutralize the European role given its global political and moral influence, on the other. On 9/12/2012, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted, “We are seeking the convocation of the Quartet of international mediators. We are supported by the European Union and the UN while the United States, the fourth participant in this mechanism, does not want this.” In other words, the US hindered the work of the Quartet as well, given its desire to “monopolize” the peace process, in line with its interests.
Perhaps Lavrov’s statement reinforces the general trend of a decline in the role of the Quartet, evident from the dwindling frequency of its meetings and statements regarding the Palestinian issue, which was consistent with the Israeli-American direction. It is sufficient to note that in 2012, the Quartet only issued one statement. In 2013, only 2 statements were made, compared to 10 in 2007, when after that the average number of statements began to decline.
3. The efforts of the Quartet were affected by the relations among its member states, especially the Western parties (the US and the EU) on one hand and Russia on the other. Political and economic relations between the parties in other arenas (Iran, Syria, Ukraine, etc.) affected the work of the Quartet, and has an impact on the Palestinian issue.
Second: The United States of America (US)
The suspension of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in September 2012, resumed in July 2013, reflected the failure of US efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict. Things became more complicated with initial signs of shifts emerging in the US’s strategic vision of the structure of its international relations, particularly in the geo-strategic dimension. The US President’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice, laid out a framework for the new directions of US policy in the short and immediate terms. Rice said, “We can’t just be consumed 24/7 by one region, important as it is,” adding, “He [the president] thought it was a good time to step back and reassess, in a very critical and kind of no-holds-barred way, how we conceive the region.” The president’s goal, Rice continued, “was to avoid having events in the Middle East swallow his foreign policy agenda, as it had those of presidents before him.”
Rice’s remarks are consistent with Obama’s previous declarations about the pivot to Asia-Pacific, which former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had alluded to, which could signal a change in the negotiating environment for both the PA and the Israeli government.
In addition, the perception of the US in the Middle East is increasingly negative, according to public opinion poll surveys in the region. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project showed that confidence in Obama in Muslim countries had declined from 33% in 2009 to 24% in 2012, while approval of Obama’s international policies fell from 34% in 2009 to 15% in 2012. The poll also showed that the level of support for the US in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Pakistan had dropped below the figures of 2008.
In the same category falls the US drive for oil and gas independence from the Gulf region and other areas. In its 2012 edition of the World Energy Outlook (WEO), the International Energy Agency (IEA) proclaimed, “Extraordinary growth in oil and natural gas output in the United States will mean a sea-change in global energy flows.” According to WEO’s central scenario:
The United States becomes a net exporter of natural gas by 2020 and is almost self-sufficient in energy, in net terms, by 2035. North America emerges as a net oil exporter, accelerating the switch in direction of international oil trade, with almost 90% of Middle Eastern oil exports being drawn to Asia by 2035.
This reinforces the perception that for the US, the strategic value of the Middle East is declining, which worries some Arab countries, and has raised questions among Israeli pundits regarding regional balances that could be deeply affected by this profound change.
Amid these American developments, Palestinian-Israeli negotiations came to a halt, mainly because of Israel’s refusal to suspend settlement activity. In the last three months of 2012 and throughout 2013, the US worked hard to get the negotiations back on track, probably to reinforce the impression that the peace process had not completely stopped. This is evident from the fact that the US Secretary of State John Kerry, who took office in January 2013, visited the area 10 times in 2013 (the last of which took place near the end of 2013 and the start of 2014). However, the frequency of Kerry’s visits to the Middle East represented less than a third of his overall diplomatic activity on other international issues, if we use the total number of visits as the benchmark.
However, what was intriguing about the way the US managed the crisis of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations was the political economy of these negotiations, where Palestinian negotiators were incentivized to return to the table through the issue of economic aid to the Palestinian side, either by promising more of it or threatening to suspend it.
Such diplomacy was renewed in 2012 and 2013, with the US announcing in May 2013 it would provide economic aid, followed by announcing the resumption of negotiations (without any Israeli commitment to stop settlement building) in July 2013. This was one of the demands Obama had made during his second visit to the WB in March 2013, which he had previously visited in 2008.
From reviewing congressional resolutions and statements, it is clear that linking US aid to Palestinian political conduct has been one of the most striking features of the American position. One Congress report stated that funds may be provided to the PA if the president could prove that it was important to the US national security interests.
The main US demands when linking aid to Palestinian political conduct can be summed up as follows:
1. Stressing the need to ensure that aid does not reach armed resistance or “terrorist” groups, specifically Hamas.
2. The Palestinian side postpones its bid to join international organizations and conventions.
3. Warning the Palestinian side not to take any unilateral action.
4. Re-stressing the need for the PA to return to the negotiating table despite the continuation of settlement building.
 This study is the approved English translation of chapter five of the book entitled: The Palestinian Strategic Report 2012–2013, edited by Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh. Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations in Beirut released the Arabic version in 2014. The first draft of this chapter was written by Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 29/8/2015