With the Palestinian Authority all but certain to have its status at the United Nations upgraded this evening to nonmember observer state, some who call themselves friends of Israel as well as some prominent Israelis are applauding the initiative. In particular, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he does not oppose the move by his former negotiating partner, PA head Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert says the vote will promote a two-state solution and help Palestinian moderates in their quest to make peace with Israel. But Olmert, whose attempt to give Abbas pretty much everything he had asked for in 2008 resulted in the Palestinian fleeing the U.S.-sponsored talks without even responding to the offer of a state, seems more interested in vainly seeking to undermine his successor Benjamin Netanyahu than drawing conclusions from his own experience.
The show at the UN is about a number of things, but advancing the chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians isn’t one of them.
The decision of most European countries to line up behind the PA seems to be based on the same reasoning put forward by Olmert. They think that after Hamas’s attention-getting terrorist missile offensive against Israel it is necessary for those who would prefer the PA to lead the Palestinians rather than the Islamists to give Abbas a shot in the arm. The win today in New York will give him that, but the vote shouldn’t be mistaken for anything that will advance peace. In fact, the whole point of the exercise is to help Abbas avoid being cornered into a negotiation like the one he abandoned with Olmert.
Understanding this requires observers to stop their myopic obsession with Israel and to focus on the real obstacle to a two-state solution: the inability of the PA to ever sign an accord that will accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state no matter where its borders are drawn.
Netanyahu’s critics consistently decry his lack of a long-term strategy for dealing with the Palestinians and achieving peace. In a sense they’re right, since the prime minister and most Israelis don’t believe peace is possible in the immediate or perhaps even the foreseeable future because of the PA’s refusal to negotiate or to contemplate the sort of compromises needed for an agreement.
But the PA can justly be accused of the same thing. Abbas has no long-term strategy, since he won’t or can’t make peace with even an Israeli leader like Olmert who was willing to make drastic concessions, and doesn’t want to return to fighting the Israelis as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did during the second intifada and as Hamas continues to do.
All Abbas can do is to hang on in the West Bank. His strategy is to avoid elections that he might lose to the increasingly popular Hamas while also evading peace talks with the Israelis while also seeking to maintain a security relationship with the Jewish state that keeps his corrupt and discredited regime in place.
The show at the UN is perfect for Abbas since it does nothing to hinder those objects, especially since the Israelis have wisely decided not to retaliate for his stunt.
The problem for the PA will come next year as a re-elected President Obama will likely attempt to revive a peace process that Abbas has spent the last four years dodging. By then, the UN vote will be just one more propaganda move that will heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation but achieve nothing tangible for Palestinians. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to rule a real independent Palestinian state in all but name that makes Abbas’s Ramallah outfit look like Israeli puppets.
Those expecting today’s vote will do anything to advance the moribund talks are dreaming, and not just because the upgrade will make mischief for Israel in international forums. Peace talks are the last thing Abbas wants.