Mahmoud Abbas at the UN, to paraphrase Julius Caesar, venit, vidit, sed non vincit, “He came, he saw, but he did not conquer”. His demand, wrapped rhetorically in the usual uncompromising narrative distortions and untruths, was that Palestine—while ignoring direct negotiations with Israel—be recognized by the Security Council as a fully sovereign state. Abbas was given standing ovations by the majoritarian herd of General Assembly anti-Israel diplomats, but even as the formal request was dramatically deposited in Ban Ki-Moon’s hands, it was clear that it would be going nowhere.
The American President, dispelling nagging doubts about American policy, had already in his address to the Assembly the day before, explicitly rejected Abbas’s demand. He noted that a Palestinian state could be created only through negotiations recognizing Jewish Israel. Obama clearly and forthrightly stated that Israel’s security—repeatedly threatened in the past–was paramount, and that the US would veto a Unilateral Declaration of Independence motion if it came before the Security Council.
Only a year before, Obama, demanding an immediate settlement halt, had publicly committed to seeing such a state quickly emerge. And even more recently he had alienated the Israelis by emphasizing the indefensible pre-1967 Six Day War “borders” (i.e., the dangerous 1949 armistice lines) as a starting point for talks.
Now, at the UN, he seemed suddenly to be doing tshuvah, repentance, for what many had come to see as a decidedly pro-Arab, and pro-Palestinian, foreign policy tilt. Indeed Abbas, in his rostrum remarks the next day, seemed aggressively to target the American leader, saying that anyone “with a shred of conscience” could not reject his people’s application.
The pro-Israel community, as well it might, heaved a sigh of relief over the forthright American defense of Israel. But in diplomacy, as in life, there is often many a slip ‘twixt the lip and the cup, and much manipulative maneuvering is already under way at Turtle Bay and in Washington.
Abbas’s document may not reach the Security Council for several weeks, giving the US time to mount a desperate attempt—within and without the Council–to avoid what is being referred to as the “embarrassment” of having to cast a veto earning it the “wrath” of an inflamed Arab world. (Celebrations of Abbas’ speech in the West Bank includedburnings of American flags and, inter alia, descriptions of America as “the head of the snake” and of Obama as “no different from former American presidents”, i.e., the hated George Bush.)
The media is already rife with various reports of “deals” designed to avoid a veto. These include the “Quartet”’s immediate, and obviously previously concerted, call—made by American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—for resumed direct negotiations within the next month (at a conference reportedly to be held in Moscow, no less). This call will, if it gets off the ground (the Palestinians have reportedly already rejected it), no doubt include renewed pressure on Israel to meet demands for a complete settlement halt prior to any resumption of face-to-face talks.
Of course, many observers see in Obama’s UN speech not so much a sudden conversion to a strong, principled pro-Israel policy, as a largely party-political calculation related to the need for Jewish support in the rapidly approaching November, 2012 Presidential election.
(Obama, sinking in the polls, no doubt also had his attention on the Jewish vote concentrated by that remarkable recent New York City straw in the wind, the Congressional election upset massively returning a Republican in a heavily Democratic, and Jewish, district. Voters here had returned Democrats since 1920, and Obama’s dangerously luke-warm Israel foreign policy was a key electoral issue.)
Of course, despite Obama’s threatened or actual veto, the Palestinians’ manufactured “crisis” at the UN is far from over. Indeed, the shrewdly calculating Abbas clearly had already taken this “setback” into account. The Palestinian move is not a sudden, impetuous action, but part of a deeper, broader delegitimation campaign against Jewish Israel. The UN move was designed with multiple purposes in mind, including making use even of a momentarily denied recognition of full state sovereignty.
Hence, whether or not a US Security Council veto is, finally, exercised, General Assembly approval of semi-official observer status, similar to the Vatican’s, is surely guaranteed. “Palestine” can then plead its legal case before such bodies as the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, seeking indictment of Israel for human-rights violations and “war crimes” and invoking the “South Africa apartheid analogy” already issuing from the various Durban “human rights” conferences.
Such moves would enable it, as a state-in-the-making, to seek the “BDS”–-“Boycott, Divestment, Sanction”—measures against Israel already demanded by pro-Palestinian political, NGO, and academic non-state actors. “Palestine” could also contest Israeli control of its air, land and sea borders, posing a direct security threat.
More immediately, “denial” of full-fledged state status could trigger “popular” disturbances, leading to a third “intifada” or—given the unstable “Arab Spring” political context–-worse.
The local instability which Abbas’s move may unleash (and which it may well have been intended to spur) must be related to the deteriorating Middle East regional situation. The Egyptian peace treaty with Israel is in tatters, as Cairo’s will to control the Sinai and Gaza borders crumbles and the Israeli embassy smolders. Meanwhile Syria’s descent into murderous chaos continues, the Hezbollah terrorists continue to dominate Lebanon, Turkey’s “neo-Ottoman” Islamist, Erdogan, threatens naval confrontation in the eastern Mediterranean (and around Cyprus), and, most ominous of all, Iran proceeds essentially unimpeded towards possession of a nuclear weapon.
The region is potentially a tinder-box (for which “Arab Spring” is a dark euphemism), and Abbas’s move at the UN, far from being a “statesman-like” act, is more akin to a lighted match.
And while for the moment it is of course well that the US will veto the UDI should it get to the Security Council, looking ahead a bit, an Obama victory, however narrow, in the coming 2012 Presidential election, could nevertheless prove quite dangerous. Once freed, in a second and final term, of any need to take “the Jewish vote” into consideration, would Obama, in the context of continuing world and US economic contraction, and given his repeated concern for “legacy” and the “remaking” of America, revert to his earlier pro-Arab policies?
A far left-liberal American President determined to “down-size” American foreign involvements (and the military), keeping Israel at arm’s length while engaging the Third [including the Arab] World”, and disengaging not only from Iraq and Afghanistan but from Syria and a now-nuclear Iran, would indeed be a novum, a radical and dangerous new departure.
Such a scenario would be one which would also mesh, consciously or not, with ongoing moves finally to achieve real sovereignty for “Palestine” while simultaneously delegitimating democratic Israel.
Just as Holocaust denial is underlain by a desire for Holocaust repetition, so, functionally, delegitimation—the attempt to weaken, isolate, and destabilize the Jewish state—points to its elimination. The “two state solution” is a Western construct—the Palestinians’ UDI gambit should be seen for what it is, an aspect of the delegitimation drive, and part of their consistent refusal across the last 64 years—that is, since Israel’s foundation, to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
What Abbas, like his predecessor and mentor Yasser Arafat (whom he invoked in his UN speech) is really pursuing is a one-state—Palestine—solution. Elimination of Israel, as envisioned by the advocates of delegitimation, can occur through exacerbating internal divisions, leading to political and moral exhaustion; by flooding the Jewish state with millions of Palestinian “refugees” via the never-abandoned “law of return”; by fomenting external pressures and crises leading to terrorism and war; or through a combination over time of all of these factors.
As the old curse goes, May you live in interesting times.
To conclude: An American veto, even if used, should not uncritically be assumed to be a sign of a permanent shift in attitude and policy, and Abbas’ UN UDI move, even if deflected, may well have other unsettling results. Nevertheless, however shrewd and calculated the Palestinian strategy may be, it cannot assume passive acquiescence on the Israeli side, and may, therefore, have quite serious unintended consequences.
Indeed, Abbas’s move may well ultimately destroy the very possibility of a Palestinian state (assuming, again, that a state is really what the Palestinians want). For openers, it violates the Oslo Accords, mandating direct negotiations in exchange for the land Israel gave up in creating the P.A., and which were signed not only by Israel and the PLO, but by the U.S. In this sense the UDI tactic may yet confirm what the late Abba Eban, Israel’s great UN ambassador, noted long ago: “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.
This reality was caught quite clearly by Benjamin Netanyahu’s far from rhetorical question to a two-thirds-empty General Assembly auditorium. Speaking after Abbas’s peroration rejecting any recognition of a Jewish state, the Israeli P.M. asked, “[You are the] body that recognized the ‘Jewish state’ 64 years ago. Now, don’t you think it’s about time that Palestinians did the same?”
(Prof. Frederick Krantz, Editor of IsraBlog, is Director of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research. He teaches history at Liberal Arts College, Concordia U., in Montreal.)