Next week, President Obama will travel to the UN General Assembly knowing that his administration will soon damage one of its main foreign policy goals: to cast the U.S. as a champion of Arab freedom and democracy.
Tragically, this self-inflicted wound will happen as a result of the United States voting against what nearly all pro-Arab freedom and democracy advocates support at this point: recognition of Palestine as a state in the UN.
Here's the irony: achieving Palestinian statehood is also one of President Obama's central foreign policy goals in the Middle East.
So here you have the tragedy and the irony all wrapped into one: the "trainwreck" Obama sees coming at the UN in September will be created by a train the Obama administration is conducting.
The administration has, for some time, known that it would veto any effort by the Palestinian Authority to achieve UN member status in the Security Council, and that it would vote against any nonbinding recognition of statehood for the Palestinians in the General Assembly.
It has simultaneously known that doing so would further tarnish its legitimacy in the Middle East, which is why it has made every effort recently to try and convince Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to forgo the PA's statehood efforts in the UN. (Faced with stalled peace talks and a shrinking territory in the West Bank, the Palestinians have refused to back down.)
Today, in a brilliant piece of reporting, Laura Rozen explained how the administration, in vowing to stand in opposition to the Palestinian's looming statehood bid at the UN, has set itself up for diminished credibility and leverage in a region it desperately wants to wield its influence as the Arab Spring's revolutions continue to reverberate.
Most interesting was her interview with a senior Middle East negotiator, Aaron David Miller:
"I think President Obama is torn," veteran American Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller told The Envoy Monday. He doesn't "want to be the guy who has to oppose a Palestinian state, which is something he is very much in support of."
But if U.S. representatives are forced to veto a Palestinian state resolution at the UN Security Council next week – as they vowed to do if the measure comes before that body – "you have to wonder how much lower American credibility can get," Miller said.
Susan Rice, in an interview today with the Christian Science Monitor, admitted two things:
1) The U.S. has done everything it can to try to stop the Palestinians, and
2) The Palestinians will push forward next week and will win overwhelming support, thus isolating America in the region on the issue.
You can see a segment of her interview here:
Rozen's article continues with some important observations about how what is about to transpire at the UN will be looked upon by some as a global rejection of America's diplomacy efforts vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:
Observers will likely interpret the UN Palestine vote as a referendum on Obama's diplomacy in the Middle East--and analysts are already predicting that the United States' credibility as an honest and effective broker in the peace process will likely take another hit.
"I think the Palestinians are going to get a big vote," said Bruce Jones, who formerly worked as an adviser in the office of the UN Middle East peace special representative, in an email to The Envoy Monday. "My view is that the vote will be as much a referendum on US Middle East diplomacy as on [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the issue [of Palestinian statehood] itself."
Of course, none of this had to happen, for the Obama administration, with enough foresight, could have used its influence with Israel to force Netanyahu's administration back to the negotiating table. But domestic politics being what they are in the U.S., and with the 2012 election looming, the Obama administration's leadership on this matter was not bold enough to support the bold foreign policy goals to which it has adhered.
Today, reports surfaced that significant players in the EU will support the Palestinian statehood bid in the General Assembly.
This is principally because the Palestinians are planning on including in its statehood bid language that indicates a continued commitment to a negotiated settlement with Israel. And Palestinians have argued that the UN bid could actually help jump-start long-stalled peace talks:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused Wednesday to back down from a bid to have the United Nations recognize Palestinian statehood, telling US officials the move did not contradict the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Abbas told visiting US Middle East peace envoy David Hale and US presidential adviser Dennis Ross that the Palestinian approach to the UN would help "overcome the impasse (in the peace process) caused as a result of Israeli intransigence."
The only question remaining, it seems, is whether the Palestinians will bring the matter before the Security Council, thus forcing a U.S. veto. (Something both the U.S. and the EU are trying to avoid, for Washington's sake.)
However, here is what is clear: the Palestinians will win the world's approval at the United Nations in a matter of days, and the United States will be among a handful on the outside looking in.
It will be painful to watch Obama damage his own foreign policy goals in the Middle East. But more painful will the further erosion of America's legitimacy in a region convulsing under the weight of revolutions.
The is the worst possible time for a "no" vote against the Palestinians, and history may not look kindly upon what is about to transpire.
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