President Obama is of course absolutely right in saying that the Middle East peace process can only be addressed by direct negotiation between Palestinians and Israelis, and that there are “no shortcuts”. Whilst the Palestinian attempt to secure state recognition at the UN is borne of understandable frustration, it is not a way to solve this enduring dispute. Indeed by seeking to paint the Israelis into a corner it probably decreases the prospects for progress. Furthermore, making the US veto the decision is embarrassing for Obama and will not be forgotten – in any negotiation it is very important not to offend players of influence.

So, marks awarded for recognising that the UN is not the place to resolve the dispute. However, relying on the Quartet of Mediators to resolve it may not achieve anything either. This Quartet of representatives from the UN, the US, Russia and the EU is already in the news. It is reported that it may issue a statement requiring Israel to accept a return to its pre-1967 borders, an end to settlements and a two state solution as a basis for settlement discussions, whilst the Palestinians are required to recognise the right of existence of a Jewish state.

If this is true, I see some clear problems with this approach:

1. Mediators would not normally set out the parameters of a deal – that is the responsibility of the parties, and it is not for the Mediators to tell them what to do. Mediators should not have a “position”.

2. Mediators would not normally set preconditions of this kind. The most important thing is to get the conversation going, not to pre-determine the outcome before it has even started.

3. Mediators should keep all matters associated with the dispute confidential – it is only on this basis that both parties will trust them with sensitive information or views, so if unofficial news of the Mediators’ views is leaking out already that is not helpful.

4. Mediators should be in the background not the foreground of the dispute. This gives Mediators the best chance of quietly influencing the participants. If the existence of the Quartet and its activities is itself a news story then they can’t fulfill that role.

5. Mediators can only hope to be successful if the parties themselves wish their dispute to be mediated. There is absolutely no sign that the Quartet has been invited into the dispute by the parties or that its involvement is welcomed by Israeli’s or Palestinians.

So, the UN process is unlikely to work in breaking the deadlock, but there is no reason to suppose that the appointment of the Quartet will achieve that either.