Earlier this week, I wrote a post wondering whether J Street has increased its influence on the Hill after the November election. A good test, I said, was whether J Street was able to rally enough objections to legislation responding to the UN vote.
One of these amendments — which would have shuttered the PLO mission in D.C. — was dropped from the defense authorization bill that passed the Senate earlier this week. According to Open Zion’s Ali Gharib, this proves that J Street has gained clout in Washington:
The United Nations General Assembly vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state was a defeat for Obama administration diplomacy. The problem for Obama and Secretary of State Clinton was not their opposition to Palestinian statehood: Obama is certainly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, as are most within the State Department. In this, as the press often forgets, they also join most Israelis who desire a two-state solution, albeit it one that will guarantee peace and security. The problem with the UN vote—and the reason for the U.S. vote against—was its unilateralism: The Palestinians had committed at Oslo to negotiate with Israel as a condition of the Palestinian Authority’s existence, and for the last four years, this they have refused to do, choosing instead to cast aside their earlier commitments just the same as Hamas has refused to abide by commitments made by their predecessors in the Palestinian parliament.
Regardless, why did so many countries break from precedent and their promises and vote against the U.S. position? Seth Mandel tackled this last week. From Melbourne, Australia, however, AIJAC director Colin Rubenstein flags a speech by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who stepped down five years ago yesterday, in which he addressed the UN vote:
Just in case there were any doubts, last week provided conclusive proof: Yes, Palestinian violence pays. And the so-called “enlightened” countries–those Western states who claim to deplore violence and favor the peaceful resolution of conflicts–are the very ones who will reward violence the most. That’s precisely what happened with the Palestinians’ successful bid for UN recognition as a nonmember observer state.
Most European countries understood that this move would at best not advance the peace process, and at worst hinder it. So some had planned to vote no, while others planned to abstain. But then Hamas dramatically escalated its rocket fire on Israel, forcing Israel to respond; Hamas thus became the center of world attention while the Palestinian Authority was sidelined. So in an effort to give the PA a boost, European governments switched their votes at the last minute: Those who had planned to vote no abstained, and those who had planned to abstain voted yes. In other words, they agreed to support something they had previously considered “unhelpful” just because Hamas fired lots of rockets at Israel.
Going into yesterday’s UN vote on upgrading Palestinian status at the world body, the Palestinian Authority received a fair amount of support from Israeli political figures, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh. Western European leaders also supported Mahmoud Abbas’s UN stunt as a way to possibly break the peace process out of its slumber. And in an utterly predictable move, the Palestinians announced as soon as the vote was tallied that they plan to make their Israeli and Western supporters look foolish.
The New York Times reports on the “day after” in Abbas’s world, and explains why negotiations are at an impasse: “Negotiations for a two-state solution have been stalled with the Palestinians, who insist on a halt to settlement building. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says he is ready for negotiations without preconditions and has refused to renew a temporary freeze that expired in 2010.” There’s that genius idea of President Obama’s still haunting negotiations: the curse of the “preconditions.” Now that we know precondition demands by the Palestinians are holding up negotiations, will the UN vote change that? “With the new emphasis on the territory as occupied, Palestinian officials said, the demand for a settlement freeze was unlikely to be dropped,” the Times continues. So yesterday’s vote will make it less likely the Palestinians will return to the negotiating table.
Lost in all the speculation about the next secretary of state is the degree to which Foggy Bottom will need someone who can put the pieces back together. While Hillary Clinton coasted for much of her term on the good press that comes with being a Clinton, until the last couple of months she was having a decidedly average run as secretary of state. But the Benghazi debacle–which was in large part the result of Clinton’s incompetence and lack of attention–followed by the expected defection of most of our European allies at the UN vote on the Palestinians today, reveals a State Department marked by ineptitude and surprising irrelevance.
To be sure, as the New York Times has thoroughly documented, diplomacy has always been one of President Obama’s more glaring weaknesses. But the well funded, high-profile State Department’s mission is to be the public face of American diplomacy, and should at least be able to keep the support of our allies. But the reported decision by Germany, France, Italy, and Britain to abandon the U.S., Canada, and Israel at the UN today left Israeli diplomats proclaiming: “We lost Europe”–to say nothing of Washington’s inability to prevent Mahmoud Abbas from going forward with this stunt in the first place:
From the Israeli Prime Minister’s statement this morning at the Menachim Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem:
“Israel is prepared to live in peace with a Palestinian state, but for peace to endure, Israel’s security must be protected. The Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state and they must be prepared to end the conflict with Israel once and for all. None of these vital interests, these vital interests of peace, none of them appear in the resolution that will be put forward before the General Assembly today and that is why Israel cannot accept it. The only way to achieve peace is through agreements that are reached by the parties directly; through valid negotiations between themselves, and not through UN resolutions that completely ignore Israel’s vital security and national interests. And because this resolution is so one-sided, it doesn’t advance peace, it pushes it backwards.
As for the rights of the Jewish people in this land, I have a simple message for those people gathered in the General Assembly today: No decision by the UN can break the 4,000-year-old bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel.”
The Israel Project has a poll out today on American views on the Arab Spring and Israel. As Mahmoud Abbas plans to launch another unilateral statehood attempt at the United Nations, a solid majority of Americans say they’re opposed:
Back in 2005, after Israel removed every soldier and settler from Gaza, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that “from this day forward, there will be no security turmoil and weapons chaos and abductions, which are not characteristic of our culture.” He proved a poor prognosticator regarding Palestinian culture: given the chance to live “side by side in peace and security” with Israel, the Palestinians demonstrated they could not do so even with themselves.
Abbas was expelled from Gaza in 2007; there have been no parliamentary or presidential elections since 2006; no functioning Palestinian legislature exists; Abbas is entering the 95th month of his 48-month term; he cannot set foot in half of his purported state (in the words of Israel’s UN ambassador, he cannot even see it with binoculars); he has refused to negotiate with Israel for more than four years; he demands recognition of a Palestinian state while refusing to recognize a Jewish one; and he now seeks admission to the UN as a non-member state even though “Palestine” meets none of the four requirements under international law for a state.