Originally published on Tikkun Daily |
After much speculation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has officially announced that the Palestinians will seek full U.N. membership by going directly to the Security Council, setting the Palestinian Authority on a diplomatic collision course with the United States.
The Obama administration, which has vowed to veto any such efforts by the PA, has been engaged in frantic attempts to avert this move by the Palestinians. Why? Vetoing a Palestinian statehood bid at the Security Council will significantly damage one of President Obama’s main foreign policy goals: to cast the U.S. as a champion of Arab freedom and democracy in a turbulent and shifting Middle East.
A joint Israeli and Palestinian women's demonstration today in the West Bank supporting the Palestinian U.N. bid.
This is why Washington has initiated last-minute talks with Abbas, trying to convince him to forgo the Security Council. The Obama administration understands that rejecting the Palestinians’ statehood bid on what will no doubt be a highly-dramatized world stage will do significant damage to this central foreign policy goal, and will likely further erode America’s already-shaky standing in the Middle East.
And this is precisely why Abbas is gambling with a move that is almost certain to fail. The Palestinians will force America to demonstrate to the world, once and for all, what most have known for some time – that the U.S. cannot be looked upon as the dominant brokering power in Middle East peace efforts.
According to a report from Haaretz, it was actually America’s final offer to avert a U.N. showdown which convinced Abbas and the Palestinians to directly challenge the Obama administration before the world:
A last-ditch U.S. attempt to sway the Palestinian Authority away from its planned statehood bid at the United Nations and toward resumed negotiations with Israel achieved only in convincing the Palestinians that recognition in the UN was their only possibility, a PA official said on Saturday.The offer made by the U.S. did nothing to address Israel’s illegal settlement construction or the occupation, and reportedly leaned toward legitimizing the settlements by describing them as “demographic trends since 1967.”
Speaking to reporters in Ramallah, Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said that a plan delivered at the last minute by U.S. envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross did not meet several Palestinian demands, thus convincing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the U.S. was not serious in trying to negotiate peace.
Shaath told Haaretz that “David Hale and Dennis Ross came with a paper that was the last straw that he [Abbas] could take. It seems that it was designed to be rejected.”
And so now, Abbas will reject American overtures before the world and force the Obama administration to either a) actualize Obama’s oft-stated desire for the Palestinians to have a state of their own, or b) damage its standing as a player in the Middle East by vetoing Palestinian statehood in the Security Council.
Abbas’ speech on Friday in Ramallah, in which he announced the Security Council gambit, made explicit that the effort was in no way meant to delegitimize Israel. In fact, Abbas was clear to note that the Palestinians are committed to a negotiated settlement with Israel, and stated that the Palestinians’ first desire, after concluding its U.N. efforts, was to return to the negotiating table with Israel and hammer out a peace settlement.
However, the upcoming showdown with the U.S. sends a clear message: the negotiating table to which the Palestinians will return must allow for additional place settings – it must make room for diplomatic players other than just the U.S. and Israel.
This move to the U.N. Security Council is about dignity. It’s about delegitimizing the occupation. It’s about delegitimizing Israel’s continued, illegal settlement construction that has whittled away much of the West Bank. And it’s about standing up to U.S. hypocrisy – a hypocrisy which has prompted the Obama administration to condemn the Palestinians’ U.N. effort as unilateral while characterizing the true unilateral affront – settlement construction – as “demographic trends.”
In all likelihood, once the U.S. vetoes Palestinian statehood in the Security Council, Abbas will shift to the General Assembly, where he will win a resounding (though largely symbolic) diplomatic victory through a non-binding resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood.
Will such a victory change anything on the ground immediately? No, and nobody expects it will. However, what will likely change is America’s standing with regard to its role as a broker of Middle East peace, a change that is long overdue.
Granted, Obama is under unwavering domestic pressure to reject all Palestinian efforts at the U.N., and is in a very difficult political position. In short, he must calculate whether the diplomatic damage caused by a Security Council veto will be trumped by the domestic political damage an abstention or even a “yes” vote would cause as 2012 and the coming election loom.
That said, bold leadership from Obama has always been required to actualize his bold, rhetorical support of Palestinian self-determination, leadership that has unfortunately been lacking.
Unless an unexpected shift occurs, the U.S. is about to consummate a dramatic diplomatic failure. The Palestinians are gambling that the U.S., given the stakes involved, just might blink in the face of possible diplomatic isolation. But even if the U.S. stays the course and vetoes the PA’s statehood bid, the Palestinians will be sending a clear message: they will no longer accept the status quo as they seek the same thing millions of others across the Middle East are demanding – freedom and self-determination.
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Author's Note: This now from Haaretz on the Obama administration's efforts to avoid having to embarrass itself with a veto vote:
The United States is working to gather enough United Nations Security Council members to resist a planned Palestinian statehood bid so as to avoid having to use its veto power, Israeli and U.S. sources said on Saturday.
Earlier this week, Obama, referring to the possibility that the recognition of a Palestinian state would arrive to the Security Council, said: "If this came to the Security Council we would object very strongly, precisely because we think it would be counterproductive."
"We don't think that it would actually lead to the outcome that we want, which is a two-state solution," he told Spanish-language media in an interview.
However, officials in both Israel and in Washington have affirmed that the U.S. was hard at work to and prevent itself the possible embarrassment of being forced to use its veto power in order to thwart the Palestinian vote, by attempting to assemble enough council members to either vote against the proposal or abstain as to make the veto unnecessary.