July 27, 2011

A U.S. veto Israel can't afford

Throughout 2011, I have blogged about fallacies regarding the Palestinian campaign to gain UN recognition as a state, in advance of a negotiated agreement with Israel. The latest "news", that the United States will vote against such UN recognition, should have come as absolutely no surprise, as I blogged many months ago just before the United States vetoed yet another resolution critical of Israel. 

The fact is, under President Obama, the United States has continued to stand by Israel. It has also done so more effectively than the Bush administration which preceded it, by not thumbing its nose at effective allies and potential partners (e.g., Iran sanctions). This U.S. credibility and prestige will prove critical in September when the Palestinian bid reaches the UN. It would be even more valuable to preserve such a resource after the vote, but a U.S. veto in the Security Council will make it more difficult for the United States to be seen as the indispensable power or "honest broker" in the Middle East -- whether defending Israel down the road or continuing the full-court press against Iran's defiant nuclear program. 

Don't get me wrong, the United States has no choice but to oppose unilateral Palestinian statehood, for reasons of interest and substance. But all this comes at a cost. Had the current Israeli government lifted half a finger to at least appear interested in resuming even rudimentary negotiations with the Palestinians, the Europeans might not now be split over statehood. The Obama administration might have been able to employ an Arab leader or two to neutralize the Arab League obsession with wrecking negotiations (especially with outgoing Secretary General Amr Moussa seeking to bolster his nationalist credentials as he pursues the presidency of Egypt). Obama himself could have leaned on Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Aside from avoiding a costly vote at the UN, the peace process might actually have been advanced. 

As I have also blogged (last January), every time the United States has had to veto a Security Council resolution condemning Israel for actions Netanyahu could have avoided in the first place, the chances for a Palestinian diplomatic victory this autumn have increased. The Palestine vote in September will not be the ultimate diplomatic battle, especially if Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu keeps leveraging his own reticence to further shift Israeli opinion toward the political right. Polarization begets polarization, and soon Israel will be needing friends more than ever before. And even its one true friend -- and Netanyahu's current ally in the White House -- will not be sufficient to keep Israel out of trouble.

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