It still amazes me to read of the extensive diplomatic efforts to head off a global showdown over Palestinian statehood at next month's United Nations General Assembly opening in New York. Had the Israeli and U.S. governments put even half as much thought and coordination into restoring a climate of trust (rather than trading insults and blaming the Palestinians), there might be a prospect for actual peace in the Middle East, instead of the consolation prize of stopping a unilateral claim to statehood.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the student who -- rather than doing the hard studying to would keep him from failing a test -- spends his time getting his parents and the school principal to intervene with the teacher to change the grade. At the same time, he makes a big fuss about the Palestinian kid sitting next him who's also going to fail.
Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister who now represents the Mideast Quartet, has been dispatched to avert the Palestinians' plan to request UN recognition. The Obama administration has made clear it will veto any Security Council resolution to admit Palestine, and the U.S. Congress has a sheaf of resolutions calling to cut off U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, all of which is appreciated. And some pro-Israel activists have recently captured the Jewish twitter-verse by protesting that the White House re-labeled the photo of Blair's March 2010 meeting with Vice President Biden as "Jerusalem" rather than "Jerusalem, Israel". Is this really the best we all can do?
Imagine if the United States, European Union, Russia and the UN Secretary-General had given Blair their full support to make a grand bargain? Imagine they'd thrown in Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev. Or something on that order.
This month, over 80 Members of the U.S. Congress are visiting Israel, including some who have themselves aspired to be the President or Secretary of State. This year, they have an opportunity to go beyond the ritual pageant of solidarity, as important as that is to the pro-Israel community back home. Will they lean on both sides, telling Netanyahu to pull the plug on new West Bank housing for a while and using threats to return Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table? The threats so far seem to focus on stopping the Palestinians from asking the UN for recognition, which couldn't be more short-sighted.
If keeping the Palestinians from unilaterally obtaining multilateral diplomatic recognition is so urgent and vital, then doing the manual labor to get bilateral negotiations back on track seems worth the cost.
U.S. credibility and popularity are at a post-Cold War low around the Middle East. Sure, let's blame George W. Bush for that one. But losing more U.S. prestige will not help Israel maintain its own security, let alone cut a deal with the Palestinians. And, despite his college try and all good intentions, this is one historians will blame on President Obama.