Yesterday President Obama’s plan to condemn Israel in the United Nations was roundly condemned by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. But the president’s betrayal appears to have also been rejected by its intended beneficiary: Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Obama and Abbas spoke on Thursday in a lengthy phone call during which the Palestinian rejected the president’s attempt to craft a “compromise” that would avoid a UN Security Council vote to condemn Israel’s settlement policy. The United States thought to head off a formal vote to condemn Israel by having the president of the Security Council issue a statement that branded the Jewish presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem as illegitimate. The Americans also promised to support a Security Council field trip to the region and even stronger anti-settlement language in a future statement by the Quartet.
But while this unprecedented American support for a UN condemnation of Israel shocked even members of Obama’s own party into statements of outrage, it wasn’t good enough for Abbas. According to the Post, the PA leader rejected Obama’s entreaties and said that his representatives and allies at the UN would go ahead and push for a vote on their resolution that would brand Israel as a violator of international law and dare Obama to veto it.
Why would Abbas reject Obama’s plan?
On the face of it, this makes no sense, since American support for a formal statement delegitimizing Israeli activities would have been a triumph for Palestinian diplomacy and a cruel blow to the Jewish state. It would have directly advanced the Palestinian agenda in a manner that was virtually unprecedented, because never before has the United States been willing to allow Israel to be officially tarred with the label of law-breaker.
The Jerusalem Post quotes an Israeli source who speculates that the PA’s motivation in pressing forward with a Security Council resolution, rather than sufficing with a presidential statement, was motivated in part by Arab leaders’ interest in diverting attention from the unrest in the region back onto the settlements. Maybe so, but it is telling that Abbas would rather force Obama to veto an anti-Israel resolution rather than have the United States give its formal backing to a less formal statement with virtually the same content and impact. Perhaps he also thinks taking the anti-settlement cause to the International Court of Justice at The Hague would be more productive for Palestinian propaganda than a limited victory at the UN Security Council.
It remains to be seen how exactly the standoff at the Security Council will play out and whether either Obama or Abbas will back down. By showing his willingness to throw Israel under the bus, Obama has once again demonstrated that he cannot be trusted to stand by the Middle East’s only democracy. However, the president is right when he claims that this resolution will be an obstacle to advancing peace talks. But that is exactly why it is so important to Abbas.
As with everything else that has gone on under the rubric of peace-process diplomacy, Abbas’s real goal does not seem to be one focused on gaining American support for measures that would directly advance his supposed goal of statehood. Instead, as proved by his consistent unwillingness to accept peace offers from the Israelis that provided for a state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem, or even to negotiate with Netanyahu, Abbas seems far more interested in exacerbating the conflict so it can drag on indefinitely. This allows him to retain his hold on power and removes the possibility that he might be forced to confront his people with the necessity of giving up their dream of Israel’s destruction.