Quartet a 'creating power vacuum' in Middle East, says report

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London, Sept.25 : The international Quartet - consisting of the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia - is being 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 referred to by The Independent, 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, the report 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 performance.

The report also gives a distinctly cool review to the progress made by former British Prime Minister Tony 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 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.

While acknowledging that 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 20 million dollar 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 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, a move strongly advocated by Blair and regarded by some local observers as the most potentially far-reaching project of its kind.

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".

The report also raises concerns over reports of "heavy-handed policing" and "documented human rights abuses" by security forces.

ANI

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