PA President Abbas gives letter to Ban Ki-moon 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Eric Thayer)
The debate over full Palestinian membership in the UN is not over yet, but it is
not too early to issue an interim report card, and it seems that what was billed
as a diplomatic OK Corral showdown is just another chapter in a long saga whose
end is still not in sight.
Diplomatically, the Israelis can register a
success. The Israeli press and opposition politicians went out of their way to
describe the calamity awaiting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. “Tsunami” and
“apocalypse now” were some of the expressions used, but that simply did not
happen. Netanyahu and his foreign minister, the fiery Avigdor Lieberman, made it
clear they had no problems with President Obama’s speech, which included a
reference to the 1967 lines. Really? Well, it’s all about expectations, and the
Israelis being told to expect a tornado got a blessed rain, so no wonder that
Netanyahu and his supporters celebrated a victory.
I doubt if in second
or third reading of the speech they’ll have the same words of praise for the
president. If they do, the president can claim his own victory. To understand
this, it is necessary to go back to his speech from some months before, and the
Israeli reactions then to the mentioning of these problematic 4 digits:
The Israelis can also be encouraged by the decision of Nigeria to
abstain in the Security Council. Nigeria being half Muslim and a member of OPEC
was supposed to be firmly in the Palestinian column. The Palestinian side is the
one that signals frustration with the proceedings in New York, and they know
why, as the attempt to isolate Israel seems to be unravel. The Palestinian
leadership made some miscalculations in its preparations for the big event in
New York. The Arab Middle East is far from being engulfed with fervor watching
the debate in New York. To be sure, there are many thousands of Arabs in the
streets of Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, but their agenda is not the Palestine
problem. It is their freedoms and bread and butter which are at
THE PALESTINIANS may have to understand, grudgingly, that the Arab
Spring is not so conducive to their struggle as they initially thought.
Propaganda notwithstanding, the truth is that the Arab masses are preoccupied
primarily with their own predicament, not that of the Palestinians. There is no
newlyfound antagonism to Israel, far from it, but in terms of priorities, this
conflict is not at the top of the list for so many Arabs.
demonstrations in the West Bank are significantly smaller than anticipated, and
one is left to hope that despite the inflammation, they will not deteriorate
into violence and bloodshed.
In addition, the Palestinian leadership is
weakened by Hamas’s position.
The internal Palestinian reconciliation
between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas left the former with the bad
smell, but no real advantage. Hamas cannot be clearer in its opposition to the
PA bid, and Abbas really needs to clarify whether he talks for all the
Palestinian people he claims to be the leader of.
This is not just a
political problem for the PA, it’s also a PR one. Ahead of the show in New York,
both sides sent their heavy PR guns to the arena. The Israelis have their former
UN ambassador, Dan Gillerman, a polished speaker, and the PA called the
brilliant Hanan Ashrawi, who for some years was in relative
But even the veteran Ashrawi cannot whitewash the impact of
some Palestinian messages that put their position in a context which is not
convenient to them.
Take for example, Abbas’ repeated announcement that
he would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. An amazing position when held
by a leader who demands recognition of his own people’s right for
Then there was a press conference in Ramallah in
which Nabil Sha’ath, one of Abbas’ closest confidants, explained at length
Palestinian disappointment with the US position. Behind the podium there was a
map of Palestine. Something was missing there – the State of Israel.
coincidence? I, for one, do not think so. And where is Ashrawi explaining this?
Polls taken in the US indicate very clearly that the majority of Americans are
not really interested in the New York drama. The same polls show that by wide
margin American public opinion continues to favor Israel. The New York story has
not become center stage in Europe either, where support for the Palestinians is
significantly greater than in the US.
The financial woes and the debt
crisis are a much bigger story there.
So on balance, it seems that Israel
is leading on points in the current round. But then, a dose of reality is in
order here. The Middle East can change very quickly. No celebrations by
Netanyahu and his government can change the fact that many more rounds are
coming down the line, so it may be that a visionary policy from them will bring
Israel many more points, not just PR but also diplomatic.
There still is
time to do that.The writer is an Adjunct Professor at American
University’s School of International Service in Washington, DC. He served as the
director of the Government Press Office and was an advisor to several prime
ministers. This article was first published on The Huffington Post and reprinted