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Palestinian Authority said to sever ties with the Quartet

Ramallah has had enough of the international group’s ‘pro-Israel’ bias, reflected in its latest report, London-based daily says

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 4, 2016. (Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 4, 2016. (Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority has decided to cut ties with the Middle East Quartet, Arab media reported on Tuesday.

The London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat reported that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided to stop working with the Quartet — the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations — following a series of disappointments in Ramallah in the group’s work.

Abbas reportedly informed the central committees of both the Palestinian Liberation Organization and his party Fatah of the decision. The decision was confirmed to the paper by Fatah Central Committee member Mohammed Ashtiya.

The Quartet on Friday released a long-awaited report on the peace process, which, for the first time in a major international forum, cited Palestinian incitement against Israel as a major obstacle to ending the conflict.

The report accused Hamas and Fatah of encouraging terror attacks against Israelis. It also criticized Israel’s settlement building, and its demolition of Palestinian homes and confiscation of land, saying those policies were “steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution.”

PLO secretary general Saeb Erekat, who is also the lead Palestinian negotiator, expressed disappointment that the report criticized both sides rather than only Israel.

“It does not meet our expectations as a nation living under a foreign colonial military occupation,” he said, and criticized what he called the report’s attempt “to equalize the responsibilities between a people under occupation and a foreign military occupier.”

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat at a press conference following an emergency meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 (AP/Amr Nabil)
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat at a press conference following an emergency meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 (AP/Amr Nabil)

On Monday, Erekat told journalists that Abbas would send a letter to the Quartet members to the effect that negotiations could not resume without a full cessation of settlement building — including in East Jerusalem — indicating that the reported decision to cut ties with the group wound not have been made until later that day.

In 2015, Abbas stopped meeting with former Quartet envoy Tony Blair, reportedly because he considered the former British prime minister biased toward Israel.

A senior Palestinian official told Al Hayat that the US has the “upper hand” in the Quartet, “the UN does not have any power, the European Union doesn’t have a unified voice,” and though Russia is “a friend to the Palestinians,” Moscow often comes to understandings with Washington over the region.

Ashtiya, the Fatah Central Committee member, told the paper that though the PA would cease working with the Quartet, it would still work individually with each of its members. Ashtiya added that Ramallah is still working through the French peace initiative — a regional approach to bringing an end to the conflict — to end settlement-building and create a clear time frame for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Israel has rejected the French initiative, saying only direct bilateral negotiations would be effective.

Israel also slammed the Quartet report. A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the report only “perpetuates the myth that Israeli construction in the West Bank is an obstacle to peace. When Israel froze settlements (between 2009-10), it did not get peace.”

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