The fourth meeting of the “Munich Quartet” — Germany, Jordan, Egypt and France — ended in Cairo this week. It was mainly concerned with the Palestinian issue. The fifth meeting is expected to take place in Paris, after the bitter transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden has concluded in Washington. The first four meetings took place during Trump’s term in office, and included a moderate and measured confrontation with the tsunami of the deal of the century.
The Munich Quartet is important in terms of its membership and function. It includes the two largest countries in the European Union, as well as the two countries that signed peace treaties with Israel, Egypt and Jordan, 42 and 27 years ago respectively. Its job is to keep the flame of the two-state solution burning, in the face of US and Israeli attempts to write it off, and the efforts by Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu to attack all of its components: the independent state on the 1967 borders; East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine; refugees; and UNRWA.
It is true that this quartet has not been able to change the direction of US and Israeli policies, as its members have neither the collective nor the individual ability to influence the decision-making process in Washington and Tel Aviv. Nevertheless, it has served as the voice of international consensus and legitimacy in the face of American unilateralism and Israeli arrogance. The group thus acted on the basis of the Qur’anic verse, “Remind them, it may help some”, and this is important, despite the modest results.
Now, with the upcoming change in Washington, this quartet will acquire a new job by paving the way for the Biden administration calling for a two-state solution; promising to restore relations with the Palestinians and resume financial support for them; reopening the PLO office in Washington; and reopening the US consulate in East Jerusalem. America’s return to its earlier positions and policies regarding the Palestinian issue would give the Munich Quartet additional credibility.
However, I am uncertain about the basic need for this particular framework to remain in place, or if it is better to move to an “international quartet” or an “expanded” version, which is being discussed today. There are Palestinian predictions that Washington will not object to returning to the international “Middle East Quartet” (the UN, US, EU and Russia), and is open to the idea of expanding it to include regional parties such as Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and perhaps Saudi Arabia. The Germans and French would be represented in the new grouping by the EU representative.
There is no doubt that the Munich Quartet will continue to gain political importance, though, at least until the Biden administration’s intentions and willingness are made clear, as the president-elect’s assertions about the multilateralist approach that he intends to adopt in foreign policy should not be understood to apply automatically to the Palestine-Israel issue. Experience has taught us that Washington views Israel as an exception to which normal rules do not apply, unless approved by the Israelis, and in a way that serves their interests first and foremost.
If it appears that Washington will not adopt a multilateral approach in its endeavour to solve the conflict due to Israeli pressure — and this is a very real possibility, even a probability according to some — then the existence of frameworks such as the Munich Quartet will be important for the purpose of countering the pro-Israel pressure on Washington. This will aim to push the US to include all key players in the search for a solution that guarantees the minimum of basic rights and interests of the Palestinians.
Throughout the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, we have become accustomed to Europe playing the role of “stunt double” in the absence of a genuine American actor. When the US administration is absent for one reason or another, a European capital steps in to distract the parties, not to fill the American void. This time, there are two European players with the same desire as two major Arab players to keep the flame of the two-state solution alive. Everyone has what they want, and what we need now is for the genuine American actor to step up to the mark.