With the first round of the process behind us, I offer these thoughts on the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations:
- American Jews were at their best in the weeks leading up to the UN session. Generally a fractious and contentious lot, they were in this case united in their opposition to the Palestinian application. They lobbied hard and effectively, pulling whatever strings they could pull to line up support for Israel’s – and America’s – position.
- The Obama administration promised support and delivered it. American diplomats performed impressively and cooperated closely with Jewish leaders. President Obama gave a strong speech to the General Assembly. Were he and his team politically motivated? It is wise to assume that every administration has political motivations. But so what? Our government earned the gratitude of the Jewish community for a job well done.
- The Obama haters in America were undeterred, of course. They even raised the volume of their criticism at precisely the moment when critical decisions were being made and the lobbying was at its height. Some of those who despise Obama sincerely disagree with him and see him as unfriendly to Israel, but others are motivated by self-aggrandizement and still others are simply providing political cover for his political opponents. The Jewish community’s leadership wisely refused to get drawn into a partisan battle. Israel advocates know that their job is to retain support for Israel on both sides of the political aisle. Obama has made his mistakes, and when he is wrong he should be criticized, but when he gets it right, Jewish leaders should say so—and they did.
- The good news for Israel: The Prime Minister gave an extraordinary speech. It is a truism to say that Mr. Netanyahu is an accomplished speaker; indeed, many are dismissive of his efforts in this arena, as if to suggest that he is so good we should simply take his talents for granted. But in this case he took familiar material (how much new is there to say, really?) and packaged it brilliantly, responding to each of Mr. Abbas’ rhetorical points. I don’t know how many minds he changed, but it was a powerful restatement of Israel’s case against the resolution and for negotiations, and its effects are likely to linger.
- The not so good news for Israel: American Jews who lobbied European states for Israel were frequently told that Israel’s best friends on the European continent were doubtful that the current Israeli government would move toward peace, if—and this is a big if—the Palestinians themselves ever get serious about the talks. In strictly off-the-record conversations, the Europeans worried that Netanyahu’s rightwing partners would not permit him to do anything substantive, even if the opportunity presented itself. With the American election a year from now guaranteeing a mostly hands-off approach from the American government, the most important diplomatic front right now is the European one. Israel will need to find ways to reassure her European allies that in meaningful negotiations, it is not Israel’s positions that will be a problem.
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