CNN is reporting that despite the failure of American and European efforts to persuade the Palestinian Authority to back off on their plan to demand statehood from the United Nations, they have now fallen back to a last-ditch attempt to stall them. This would involve PA head Mahmoud Abbas delivering a letter to the UN Security Council while not seeking to force an immediate vote.
This would at least put off the moment when the United States is forced to veto the measure and allow more time for pressure to resume peace negotiations. One U.S. diplomat, speaking anonymously, told CNN: “It actually is a good idea because it is like a Damocles hanging over our heads. It creates an urgency to start negotiations.” But this just shows how badly the administration has misread the situation. Far from acting to jump-start the peace process, the delay will merely serve to further isolate Israel and the United States while allowing the Palestinians to preen on the international stage without conceding anything.
The pressure a delay will create won’t give the Palestinians an incentive to talk. The whole reason they have undertaken their UN gambit is to avoid negotiations. After all, had statehood been their primary objective, they could have had one when it was offered to them by the United States and Israel in 2000 and 2001 to Yasir Arafat and again in 2008, when it was Abbas who said no to an even better offer of independence in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Saying yes would have given them statehood but also obligated them to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state and to end the conflict. But this is something they are not willing to do no matter where Israel’s borders would be drawn.
Their goal at the UN is not the resumption of talks they have steadfastly refused to return to no matter how much the Obama administration has tilted the diplomatic playing field in their direction. The only statehood they want is one that is imposed on Israel and allows the PA to avoid making peace as a precondition. This is vital for Abbas’ survival, as Hamas’ rejection of such a move to recognize Israel would doom the Fatah-run PA.
Having spent months in futile attempts to entice the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, the United States seems ready to seize upon any delay tactic to avoid what will be a noisy confrontation in the Security Council. But it is a mistake.
The Palestinians need to be put on notice the United States will not allow them to circumvent the peace process. What the PA wants is for Israel to be forced by the United States and Europe to give in on the entire substance of possible negotiations before any talks begin. They hope to use a delay to try to further chip away at European support for negotiations and to ramp up the pressure on the United States to hand them Israel’s security and rights on a silver platter.
Playing along with this game won’t enhance America’s standing in the region or the world. It is Obama’s weakness and his mistaken belief that creating greater distance between the U.S. and Israel which has led the Palestinians to believe they can flout American interests with impunity by going to the UN. Buying more time until the inevitable moment when a unilateral statehood declaration must be vetoed will only further weaken American interests. It is time for Obama to put his foot down. Any more delay will only undermine the dwindling hope of avoiding another outbreak of bloodshed inspired by the PA’s proposal.