Regardless of missteps during the past two years, the Obama administration’s greatest handicap in Arab-Israeli diplomacy is the legacy of eight years of benign neglect from 2001 through 2008. The resulting absence of trust, the surrender of Gaza to Hamas, the abdication of Palestinian legitimacy and initiative to the Arab League, the loss of faith by centrist Israelis -- the catastrophic despair and desperation among Palestinians on the ground -- have put us in a situation where nothing good might happen for another ten years.
One negative development that could come to pass in 2011, however, is a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood, which would be the first since the Palestinians have controlled territory by agreement with the State of Israel. Several Latin American nations have already ‘pre-recognized’ this statehood, and the U.S. Government’s effort to keep alive some dialogue in the region will be compromised if it has to veto a UN Security Council decision on recognizing Palestinian statehood -- which it will almost certainly have to do.
As my Algonquin cohort Micah Halpern has pointed out, the Palestinians and the Arab League effectively assumed this strategy many months ago: Return to negotiations for a limited period, biding the time for negotiations to fail, at which point they would have enough political capital to sway European and Latin American governments. We may have reached this point.
Israel can probably count on a U.S. veto, but following on the abortive effort to renew talks late last year, there will be little value for Washington to pursue the kind of energetic engagement to Israelis and Palestinians that keeps Israel relevant to U.S. politics.
No matter how much an Israeli government wants to avoid U.S. pressure or stark choices on the Palestinian issue, Israelis will understand sooner or later that their $100 billion economy and enviable military arsenal have a short shelf life if they are not relevant in Washington. And in such an eventuality, they won’t be able to look to Europe for a shoulder to cry on, either.
So maybe it’s time to go “jump a shark”, run a “Hail Mary” play, or otherwise “go for broke”. Turning-points are not always thrilling or climactic, as the next six months may prove, but they are no less dangerous. And that is a lesson which will not come cheap.