Netanyahu scary grin 311 AP.
(photo credit: AP)
There were no winners in last week’s UN vote on the Arab resolution to condemn
Israeli settlement policy. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas looked like he
wanted an excuse to avoid making peace, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s
preference for building settlements over negotiating only further deepened
Israel’s international isolation and President Barack Obama showed he had little
influence with either side, and few clear ideas about how to advance a peace
process he insists is an administration priority.
administration was slow in its response to Palestinian plans to go to the
Security Council, trying to buy off Abbas when it was already too late, and
succeeding only in looking ineffectual. When it finally cast its veto, it tried
to have things both ways, voting as Netanyahu wanted while agreeing with Abbas
on the “illegitimacy” of Israeli settlement policy.
What it really came
down to for Obama was as much domestic politics as foreign policy. With a peace
process stalled by weak and disinterested Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Obama
focused more on the potential political fallout at home. Abstaining was out of
the question – as an old football coach said of a tie game, it’s like kissing
Voting for the resolution would have done nothing to revive
direct negotiations, while it would have incurred the wrath of Israel’s friends
on Capitol Hill, much of the Jewish community and a big chunk of the Democratic
Party’s donor base. Republicans would have trumpeted it as more evidence of the
president’s hostility toward Israel.
Had the resolution passed, it was
expected – and it still may happen – that Abbas would go to the UN General
Assembly in September, where the measure has 130 supporters plus 14 of 15 on the
Security Council, and press for immediate recognition of Palestinian
BY REJECTING Obama’s request to withdraw the resolution, or at
least go for a more balanced “presidential statement” from the Security Council,
Abbas did a giant mitzva for Israel supporters who insist the Palestinians are
not serious about peace. Topping it off, Abbas turned out thousands of
demonstrators for a “day of rage” against America. None of that will help
convince a budget-slashing Congress to keep sending him at least $200 million a
year. Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said
passage of the resolution “would only whet the appetite for further
internationalization of the conflict, perhaps even leading... to an effort to
win a UN-imposed prescription for a final Israeli-Palestinian
Arafat declared statehood in 1988, and 104 UN member states
“acknowledg[ed] the proclamation of the state of Palestine.”
months, 75 states recognized Palestine. Only two voted no: the US and Israel.
The only ones that really counted. And it will be déjà vu all over again if
Abbas tries it this time.
But there has been one important change. A tide
of uprising – intifadas – is sweeping the Arab world from North Africa to the
Persian Gulf, and America is seeing many old allies badly shaken or fall,
further weakening the influence of Israel’s best – and last? – true
Netanyahu may be crowing his victory, but it is a Pyrrhic one. He
didn’t win any friends in Washington or elsewhere.
As he surveyed the
overwhelming opposition to his settlement policy – notably from friends in the
international community – the uneasy situation he created for the American
administration and the explosive conditions consuming the Middle East (none
directly related to Israel or the Palestinians, but all having great potential
impact), he seemed oblivious except to say Israel will have to increase defense
spending. Netanyahu’s continuing support for settlement expansion – whether from
ideology or political expedience – will only increase Israel’s isolation and
convince even many allies in Washington that all his talk about peace is just
that – talk. Meanwhile, Israel’s international stature has continued to
Abbas earned an uncharacteristically harsh rebuke from The
Washington Post, which called him “weak and intransigent,” neither willing nor
able to make peace, and intent on “embarrassing and antagonizing” an American
president determined to help him create a Palestinian state.
line for the US veto was clearly stated: These are issues to be decided in
direct negotiations between the parties. But what happens when neither party
wants to negotiate? Is it time for the US to step in with a proposal of its own?
It is highly unlikely much will happen until after this fall’s Palestinian
elections and next year’s American election; by then there may also be elections
I find it difficult to take seriously reports that Washington
and Jerusalem are trying to formulate a joint approach for relaunching peace
talks. There are no signs that Netanyahu or Abbas has any serious
Obama is like one hand clapping. Abbas’s decision to press for
a Security Council vote – and possibly go to the General Assembly this fall –
makes it more difficult, not easier, to get the talks back on
Which may be just what he wants.