Why the UN must abolish the ‘Quartet’

It was formed to assist in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, in reality, envoy Tony Blair uses it for personal profit.

Tony blair
Tony Blair has been accused of using his position in the Quartet to further his personal business interests [GALLO/GETTY]

Quartet envoy Tony Blair has been the target of stinging criticism of late from officials close to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. There have even been murmurs that Abbas’ officials may formally request Blair’s removal.

While Blair’s Quartet role, which he took up the day he left office as UK prime minister in 2007, has undoubtedly been harmful to the Palestinian people and to any semblance of international law, it would not be enough to call for Blair to go.

It is the Quartet itself – an ad hoc committee of US, EU and Russian officials, and the UN Secretary General, that monopolises the so-called “peace process” – that has destroyed what little credibility the United Nations has left on the question of Palestine.

It functions as a front that launders Israeli and American demands of the UN as “international” positions, sidelining international law and countless resolutions declaring myriad Israeli actions to be grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

To begin to restore UN credibility, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should end UN membership, funding and support for the Quartet. If he doesn’t, UN member states should demand that he do so.

A vehicle for Blair’s personal ambitions and enrichment

Nabil Shaath, a senior Abbas associate, has gone on record complaining that Blair was acting as Israel’s defence attorney” in face of Abbas’ application for a Palestinian state to be admitted as a full member of the United Nations.

None of this is surprising for those who have been paying attention; what is new is the open criticism and level of scrutiny Blair is receiving.

A recent episode of the investigative documentary Dispatches, on the UK’s Channel 4, revealed the extent to which Blair has used the Quartet to advance his personal business interests and that of his clients.

Blair … has used his Quartet role to gain introductions and proximity to Arab leaders, whom he then signed private consulting contracts with.

– UK Channel 4 Investigative Documentary

Blair, according to the documentary, has used his Quartet role to gain introductions and proximity to Arab leaders, whom he then signed private consulting contracts with for his secretive private firm Tony Blair Associates (The name sounds strikingly like the infamous Kissinger Associates).

Blair obtained one such contract, worth $40m from the Emir of Kuwait, to advise on “reforms”, and another, also thought to be worth millions, from the rulers of the United Arab Emirates.

This kind of mixing of official and private roles also extends to Blair’s work in Palestine.

Blair was instrumental in lobbying Israel to release frequencies in November 2009 for mobile phone company Wataniya to operate in the occupied West Bank. Wataniya is owned by the Qatari telecoms giant Q-Tel which bought Wataniya in 2007 with a $2bn loan arranged by the bank JP Morgan, according to Dispatches.

Blair also works for JP Morgan, which pays him over $2m a year for providing “strategic” advice. JP Morgan stood to make “substantial profits” if the deal went through, the British documentary said. Israel, it is worth recalling, had tied approval of Wataniya’s frequencies to the PA dropping efforts to pursue the Goldstone report on Israeli war crimes in Gaza, through the UN.

Another major deal Blair brokered with Israel was for British Gas to secure contracts to exploit natural gas fields worth up to $6bn in the territorial waters of the occupied Gaza Strip. While Blair publicly sold the deal as good for Palestinians in Gaza, no Palestinians in Gaza were ever consulted. Blair negotiated the deal directly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which, according to Channel 4, “would likely see Israel control the gas supply and any surplus gas sold to Israel and not on the open market.”

Blair, in other words, is not only enriching himself and his clients (both he and JP Morgan denied to Channel 4 that there was any “conflict of interest”), but assisting Israeli colonialism, exploitation, plunder and profiteering from the occupied Palestinian territories under the cynical guise of “helping Palestinians”.

Lack of accountability

Part of the difficulty of ascertaining where official Quartet business ends and Tony Blair’s personal interests begin is a complete lack of accountability and transparency. Blair is apparently not bound by any of the strict conflict of interest and disclosure regulations governing UN employees, or British officials even though it appears that UN and British government funds support his Jerusalem office to the tune of millions of dollars per year even though he spends barely days a month there.

In 2007, the UN Development Programme’s “Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People” spent over $400,000 on three armoured cars for Blair. The largest share of ongoing running costs of Blair’s office are borne by the British taxpayer.

No one knows who can hire or fire Blair. Blair, however, has only exploited this situation and is a symptom of the larger problem: The Quartet itself.

Quartet and UN demands have only been enforced on the Palestinians, while Israel continues illegal colonisation with impunity [GALLO/GETTY]

A smokescreen for the Americans and Israelis

The Quartet, although often referred to as if it were an official body, was founded in 2002 as an informal committee. There is no UN resolution giving it a mandate, although it has taken on an air of permanence and precendence over every other international institution.

From the start, the Quartet served not so much as a forum for international involvement in addressing the question of Palestine, but rather a substitute for real international involvement and a cover for American control.

“[The Quartet was] a smokescreen for the action of the Americans and the tandem between Americans and Israelis … 

 … This was buying time for allowing the Israeli government to do whatever they wanted to do.”

– Anis Nacrour, French diplomat

Anis Nacrour, a French diplomat who served as a senior advisor to Tony Blair in the Quartet office in Jerusalem told Channel 4 that from its inception, the Quartet was “a smokescreen for the action of the Americans and the tandem between Americans and Israelis. At the end of the day, all this was for buying time for allowing the Israeli government to do whatever they wanted to do.”

Enforcing demands only on the Palestinians

The Quartet’s famous “Road Map” of 2002, for example, imposed strict duties on both the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The Palestinians had to crack down on any resistance to the occupation and resume “security coordination” with the occupation army as well as undertaking externally-dictated “reforms” to prepare for “statehood”. Israel, meanwhile, was obligated to “freeze all settlement activity” and bring “an immediate end to violence against Palestinians everywhere.”

Almost a decade later, the PA had dutifully jumped through all the hoops set up for it, to the point where negotiator Saeb Erekat bragged to US officials in 2009 that in fulfilling their Road Map duties, he and his PA colleagues had “even killed our own people to maintain order and the rule of law”.

Yet in the same period, Israel killed thousands of Palestinians in atrocities described as war crimes, and it continues to steal and colonise Palestinian land with impunity. The latest Quartet statement did not even dare mention the word “settlements” but called on the PA to return to the same treadmill of negotiations while Israel carries on building on Palestinian land.

Quartet legitimises Gaza siege and UN obeys

In September 2010, the international fact-finding mission commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate Israel’s attack on the flotilla found that Israel’s siege and blockade of Gaza is illegal, a position previously affirmed by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

That ought to be the position taken and defended by the UN Secretary General. But instead the current incumbent Ban Ki-moon takes his orders from the Quartet, ignoring the international law he is sworn to uphold.

Shockingly, last May, as another flotilla was planning to set sail for Gaza, Ban wrote to goverments of Mediterranean states urging them to “use their influence” to halt any ships leaving for Gaza.

The letter termed the flotillas “not helpful” and expressed the Secretary General’s “belief that assistance and goods destined to Gaza should be channelled through legitimate crossings and established channels.” Ban based this position on a previous Quartet statement.

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Of course the “legitimate crossings and established channels” Ban referred to are the ones that Israel has unilaterally imposed, amid a deliberate effort to collectively punish Gaza and restrict the food intake of its population – half of whom are children – according to “mathematical formulas”, as the Israeli human rights group Gisha discovered.

In other words, the UN Secretary General was advocating, based on a Quartet position, that Israel had the right to do whatever it pleased, no matter how illegal and harmful to the population of Gaza.

Moreoever, the Secretary General became a recruit, like the Greek government later, in the American-Israeli campaign to stop the flotilla while sparing Israel the embarassment of sending armed thugs once again to board ships carrying civilian peace workers.

In the interests of maintaining a Quartet consensus dictated by Israel and the United States, the UN Secretary General has thrown out international law and silenced the voices of all other UN member states.

Member states must take back the UN and end the Quartet

It is true that more recently the Quartet has been split with Russia holding up some of the worse American initiatives including, say some reports, an effort to write Israel’s demand to be recognised as a “Jewish state” into the most recent statement. These divisions however reflect not any genuine debate or process, but merely the extremism of the American-Israeli position.

One hundred and ninety one other UN member states should not tolerate that their role be reduced to one member – represented through consistently weak and pliant Secretaries General – in an ad hoc committee that has effectively been controlled by the Americans in the interests of Israel.

The Arab League states, at least, should demand that the UN Secetary General withdraw from the Quartet and halt funding Tony Blair’s office from money that is supposed to assist Palestinians whose lives have been devastated by the very Israeli policies Blair facilitates.

If the UN is to begin to play any useful role in restoring the Palestinians’ usurped rights, it must begin by abolishing the obstructionist and irredeemably corrupted Quartet.

Ali Abunimah is author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and is a contributor to The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict. He is a co-founder of the online publication The Electronic Intifada and a policy adviser with Al-Shabaka.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.