Any remaining doubt the Obama administration will veto a resolution on Palestinian independence should it come before the United Nations Security Council was removed yesterday. Wendy Sherman, President Obama’s nominee for undersecretary of state for policy, the department’s third-ranking position, confirmed the veto pledge during her Senate confirmation hearings. But as much as Obama will deserve some credit for spiking the Palestinian Authority’s effort to evade peace negotiations, there is more to this issue than merely an American “no” vote.
The prospect of a UN debate on Palestinian statehood has caused something akin to panic among some Israelis, especially their diplomatic corps. But though the fear of a “diplomatic tsunami” against them is real, it is far from clear an already isolated Jewish state will be any more or less of a pariah after votes in the Security Council or even a victory for the Palestinians in the UN General Assembly. No Palestinian state will materialize on their borders after such a vote, though the terrorist state in Gaza that already presents a potent threat to Israeli security will still be there.
But on the diplomatic front, it is American prestige in the region and sponsorship of the peace process that is potentially at risk in the Palestinian “tsunami.” A failure to veto would effectively end any hope for a negotiated settlement of the conflict, something no U.S. government can possibly accept.
Much will depend on the manner in which the U.S. delegation to the UN conduct themselves during the debate and whether or not the veto is cast in a manner which will add to, rather than detract from, the non-stop assault on Israel that will commence once the world body gathers for its annual meeting. Much like the infamous “Zionism is Racism” debate that is remembered just as much for U.S. Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s eloquent and principled defense of Israel, this debate presents a similar opportunity for Susan Rice, President Obama’s envoy to the UN. But if Rice, who has at times been an acerbic critic of Israel, plays along with the false narrative of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians rather than refuting it, she will send a damaging and confused message to the world about the state of the U.S.-Israel alliance. Rather than showing the Palestinians and their UN cheerleaders that refusing to negotiate will cost them dearly, a statement aimed at appeasing rather than chastising the PA could well encourage them to continue their prevarications.
As I wrote earlier this week, the Palestinian Authority will itself be a big loser if their UN gambit leads to violence that undermines Mahmoud Abbas’s shaky hold on the West Bank and strengthens Hamas. That’s why Obama administration efforts to try to bribe the Palestinians to back off on their UN effort are particularly ill-conceived. Though a U.S. veto is assured, if it is accompanied by further attempts to reward Abbas for his refusal to make peace, it is American influence and not Israel that will suffer.