Israel does not meet the Quartet Conditions, and for good reason. It would be suicide.
Yesterday, Yousef Munayyer called for the United States to end its “pro-Israel favoritism” and adopt an “evenhanded approach” to brokering peace in the Middle East. How? For starters, America must demand that Israel adhere to the three “Quartet Principles” as a precursor to negotiations, the same standard that the U.S. invokes in blocking Hamas from participating in negotiations. The conditions include: (1) recognition of Palestine, (2) adherence to previous agreements, and (3) renunciation of violence as a means of achieving goals.
It sounds like a reasonable request. After all, can there be any hope for peace through unbalanced negotiations led by a biased mediator? Why not hold both sides to the same standards?
Of course, it is not that simple. Munayyer is not really asking for evenhandedness or fairness or a level playing field. He’s asking for America to impose a handicap on Israel, to manufacture equality at the negotiating table where none exists in the real world. Treating Israel and Hamas as equals effectively elevates a terrorist organization at the expense of a democracy. America cannot treat Israel the same way it treats Hamas precisely because they are so different.
This is not Model U.N. For peace negotiations to have any chance for success, they must take into account the existing state of affairs in the Middle East. As it happens, Israel has the status quo advantage—for the most part, it can continue in relative peace and prosperity under the current circumstances. That matters. In devising a solution to an intractable problem spanning decades, starting from a blank slate simply isn’t an option.
Consider what it would mean for Israel to meet the Quartet Conditions at this time. First, recognizing a Palestinian state is problematic, both on legal and practical grounds. Palestine has a ways to go before it meets the requirements of statehood outlined in the Montevideo Convention, and prematurely recognizing it as a country effectively neuters international law, turning statehood into a popularity contest instead. Israel does, however, recognize the right of Palestinians right not to be exterminated—Hamas still has some progress to make on that front when it comes to Israelis.
Second, unilaterally adhering to previous agreements would create grave security threats for Israel. Munayyer points to Israel’s failure to permit offshore fishing and allow export trucks through the border as examples of Israel’s “persistent” violation of previous agreements. However, it does not take much creativity to imagine why Israel might be wary of allowing 100,000 trucks through the border each year while rockets are flying overhead. Trucks can carry bombs; 100,000 trucks can carry a lot of bombs. As a matter of security, it is simply too great a risk.
Finally, Munayyer equates Palestinian violence with Israeli violence. They are not the same. The force that Israel uses in running checkpoints is defensive and protective—its “goal” is to preserve some measure of safety and security for Israeli citizens. The current system is certainly burdensome for many Palestinians and expensive for Israelis; neither side is pleased with the status quo. But, alas, these procedures have proven awfully effective at preventing attacks on Israeli soil, and to abandon the use of force would surely put lives in danger. And for what? A trip to the bargaining table with an adversary whose very charter calls for the destruction of Israel? No thanks.
Simply put, when it comes to the Quartet Conditions, the stakes are higher for Israel. That is why asking Israel to disarm its military is different from asking Hamas to stop raining bombs on Israel’s civilian population. It’s why keeping Palestinian fishermen close to shore is different from Hamas stockpiling weapons in violation of the Oslo Accords. And it is why Israel’s failure to recognize an amorphous, poorly defined Palestinian state is very different from Hamas calling for the destruction of the Jewish State it refuses to recognize in the first place.
Ultimately, Munnayer points to America’s pro-Israel attitude as the primary roadblock to peace. The United States (and every other country in the world, for that matter) has failed to successfully negotiate peace in the Middle East for a number of diverse and difficult reasons. Holding Hamas to a different standard—that is, requiring basic steps such as disarming and recognition—is the type of pragmatic decision that will allow future negotiations a chance for success.
Kerry’s request does not reflect a systematic bias or obstacle that will scuttle negotiations. It reflects a more basic reality: America does not—and should not—demand that Israel put itself in danger for peace. That’s all.