Israel's diplomatic tsunami

A diplomatic tsunami appears to be on the horizon for Israel this September with the following scenario: The Palestinians will ask the UNSC for a state, the US may veto, the former will appeal to the UNGA, the majority will be in favor, and Israel will cry “anti-Semitism.”

United Nations Security Council chamber 311 (photo credit: Patrick Gruban/WikiCommons)
United Nations Security Council chamber 311
(photo credit: Patrick Gruban/WikiCommons)
The most prevalent cliché these days is that in the Middle East, uncertainty rules supreme. This is frequently summed up with the ever-insightful “no one knows what may happen tomorrow.” I’m sure you’ve used this cliché yourself, and who can blame you? Indeed, the CIA, MI6 and Mossad share your consternation.
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Pundits who serially err in their predictions persist in dishing them out anyway, projecting with utter conviction what will inevitably happen in Egypt, Libya or Bahrain. But even more perplexing is the fact that decision-makers always seem to be caught unawares and lack coherent policies when faced with events that should have at least been accounted for as possible outcomes.
But between this coalition of know-nothings, there seems  to be a consensus that Israel is heading towards a diplomatic catastrophe come September. 
And the precise nature of this crisis? Well, only a few days ago Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned against a severe international backlash and diplomatic ostracism. With timely and topical acuity, Barak termed the expected development as nothing short of a “tsunami”. The enormous devastation wreaked by the tsunami in Japan makes one shudder to think of what a diplomatic one can do to Israel. September is a potential culmination date for the detrimental developments that Israel has experienced over the last several years. A growing impatience and intolerance toward Israeli policies (or lack thereof) coupled with a sense of saturation with the endless Israeli-Palestinian bickering over “the process,” resulted in increased international isolation and antipathy toward anything and everything Israeli.
The unrest and instability in the broader Middle East only serves to magnify these sentiments. While the Palestinians recognize this trend and are taking full advantage, Israel on the other hand, stands on proverbial soap boxes yelling at the top of its lungs that the Palestinians are not partners and that everything is tied to Iran.
There is a discernible default scenario twinned with a specific design in Palestinian diplomatic strategy. By default, the Palestinians seem to have concluded that a meaningful peace process is not tenable since “Final Status” core issues cannot conceivably be negotiated with a Netanyahu-led government.
Now comes the “design” dimension: In concluding that a “let’s pretend” process is an exercise in futility, expending time and political capital that only diverts world attention to more pressing issues, the Palestinians have realized that there is a disincentive for them to enter negotiations. So by design, they are intent on proving that there is no Israeli partner, and consequently they actively seek to “internationalize” the solution. This is achieved by asking the world to recognize a Palestinian State without first negotiating it. This tactic means negotiations can only resume between two sovereign states enjoying “equal footing.”
Cue the tsunami, inching its way in.
The conventional wisdom holds that the Palestinians will appeal to the UN Security Council in September and ask that a State of Palestine be recognized within the June 4, 1967 borders, i.e. a border delineated by the “Green Line.” Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Cyprus and Russia have already recognized such a state and others are certain to follow suit prior to the UN General Assembly that will be held in September in New York. The US, France, Britain, Sweden, Spain and Ireland have upgraded their relations with the Palestinian Authority and from a political and perhaps even a legal aspect, regard it as a quasi-state or a state-in-the-making.
The Palestinians will have the support of Russia, China and very possibly Britain and France. This means that four of the five permanent members of the Security Council and quite plausibly all of the other ten rotating members will cast their votes in the Palestinians’ favor.
That leaves the US with a veto dilemma. The last US veto, in February of this year and in response to a resolution condemning settlement–building, was a bitter and begrudged one that the US clearly did not want to cast but did so for diplomatic reasons. Furthermore, in an almost unprecedented gesture, the US issued a written explanation of its decision to veto. The text criticizing Israel in that paper was substantially harsher than the language contained in the original resolution proposal. So ultimately, the US vetoed a resolution that expressly reflected its own policy.
The US will therefore have three alternatives come September: Firstly, to veto the resolution on substantive grounds, arguing that an issue of such magnitude and implications must be negotiated rather than unilaterally declared by the UN. Secondly, to veto the resolution on political grounds; President Barack Obama, on the cusp of election year, will be hesitant to provide Republicans with an issue they can vociferously attack him on. Thirdly, the US may choose to abstain. Why risk its interests in the Arab world by isolating itself and supporting Israel when there is no viable peace process anyway?
The first two, however, are much likelier scenarios. And once the resolution is vetoed, the Palestinians - through numerous proxy-countries willing to cater to their needs - will present it to the General Assembly. While Assembly decisions are by and large declaratory and lack any real binding or coercive qualities, the motion will nonetheless gain a huge majority: Something along the lines of 165-175 in favor, 7 against and 10-20 abstentions. Even by UN anti-Israeli standards this would be an overwhelming tally. The Israeli/Jewish knee-jerk reaction will be to blame the usual culprits: anti-Semitism, Hasbara,  ignorance, double-standards, hypocrisy and prejudice.
What may ensue is a comprehensive de facto and de jure recognition of a Palestinian State that will render Israel’s presence beyond the Green Line as an invasion rather than an occupation. Once that becomes the new status-quo, Tsunami-observers will no doubt predict economic sanctions.
This is all avoidable. Not through a speech or a plea or incessant whining but through the introduction of a real and robust diplomatic plan that will be a game-changer. For that to happen, you need a dose of realism, a grain of creativity and a critical mass of leadership. I leave it to you to decide whether we have any of those three vital ingredients.
The writer is a diplomat who recently served as consul-general in New York.