For decades, the U.S. has been the key broker of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. After the Second Intifada in 2000, there was an effort to bring in additional power brokers. But the resulting so-called Middle East Quartet -- made up of the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia -- remains dominated by Washington and has done little to bring peace to the region.
In the lead-up to last month’s U.N. General Assembly, the French proposed a new idea: If the Quartet can't get the parties to agree on to a deal, maybe adding 19 more countries -- including Saudi Arabia, Norway, China and Ireland -- and the Arab League to the peace talks would make it easier.
Riyad Mansour, Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., welcomed the French effort, noting it includes "friends to both parties," and cited the recent success of the P5+1 -- a group made up of the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, China, Russia and Germany -- in the Iran nuclear negotiations as an example of the benefits of multilateral diplomacy.
So just hours after Abbas' declaration in September, this new, expanded negotiating team met for the first time. The group's hour-and-a-half-long meeting was brief, considering the size of the body, and the discussion was limited to broad parameters that would be inoffensive to all parties: holy sites in Jerusalem need to be kept under the existing status quo, settlements in the occupied territories should freeze, and the international community should provide positive incentives to both parties to pursue a final agreement.
France plans to invite representatives from the 24-member body back for ongoing meetings. The eventual goal, the diplomat said, is to bring up a Palestinian statehood resolution at the Security Council.
France has tried a similar gambit before. In the months following the 2014 Gaza War, the country began drafting a Security Council resolution that would have laid out baseline parameters for a two-state solution. But the Palestinians beat them to it, introducing their own resolution in December, which set a two-year deadline for a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The U.S. criticized the proposal as one-sided and unrealistic and vetoed it.
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