Today's United States veto of the Arab -sponsored resolution at the UN Security Council has left no-one happy.
Israel's detractors point, with a modicum of glee, to an Obama Administration full of multilateralist pretensions, yet woefully isolated in this vote, which won the support of the remaining 14 members on the SC. That, they say, is a direct result of the overpowering influence which Israel and its lobby has over U.S. foreign policy.
Israel's supporters are angry that this issue even got to the UN. After all, this is a body in which all states are formally equal, yet Israel finds itself less equal to everyone else, thanks to the wildly disproportionate attention which the various UN bodies pay to its supposed offenses, as well as the battery of agencies dedicated to everything from Palestinian refugees to Palestinian rights.
It is true that the U.S. enabled today's spectacle by seeking a compromise solution, whereby the Security Council would issue a non-binding presidential statement condemning the settlements. However, the Palestinians, who are unrivaled when it comes to playing the victim, said they were being short-changed. They pressed ahead with a resolution that, if not for the U.S. veto, would have been passed.
A moral victory for the PA, then? Perhaps, but so what. A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the Israeli-Palestinian impasse in which I quoted Francois de Callieres, an emissary of France's King Louis XVI, who made this pithy observation about powers great and small in one of the foundational texts of modern diplomacy, "On the Manner of Dealing with Princes:"
The blunder of the smallest of sovereigns may indeed cast an apple of discord among all the greatest powers, because there is no state so great which does not find it useful to have relations with the lesser states.
I went on to say:
As a remedy, de Callieres insisted that negotiations must be continuous, so that, at the end of a process that is likely to be complex and tortuous, all parties understand that it is in their respective interests to compromise. However, when it comes to the U.S.-led effort to bring peace to the Middle East, de Callieres's insights, long embedded into the norms of modern diplomacy, are being displaced by that "smallest of sovereigns," the Palestinian Authority.
Rather than engage in negotiations which will reinforce the need for compromise, the PA has embarked on a strategy that, in the language of de Callieres, places its "passions" over its "interests." Moreover, the PA is getting away with it, because it has become adept, in its relations with powers great and small, at trading its supposed powerlessness as a form of power.
My point is that while the prestige of U.S. diplomacy has been badly bruised today, the Palestinian strategy is ultimately self-defeating. Neither pushing resolutions at the Security Council, nor winning recognition of statehood from assorted Latin American countries, will deliver a real, functional Palestinian state. Only direct talks with the Israelis can achieve that.
By scorning the talks, the Palestinians are also scorning their sponsor: the Obama Administration. Yes, as de Callieres tells us, big powers value their relations with small entities. At the same time, small entities who abuse those relations take a perilous risk.
Whatever differences Obama may have with Israel, this snub from the PA is not one he will easily forget. Remember, this is a man who, last September, stood at the podium of the UN General Assembly and pledged to do all he could to bring about a Palestinian state by the same time the following year. That pledge now looks increasingly forlorn, thanks in the main to the PA's antics.
As well as alienating the U.S., the PA has no guarantee of continued regional support. Those Arab states which lined up to push the resolution are under tremendous internal pressure, so much so that it is positively bizarre that, today of all days, the Security Council should devote its energies to the Palestinians. Further unrest and repression in the Arab world, as well as the spectre of an Islamist triumph in Egypt, could actually damage the fortunes of the PA.
Rejection, isolation, the overwhelming sense of being on the wrong side of history: all the fates that the PA warns lie in store for Israel await the PA too. If the PA leadership is serious about creating the political conditions for statehood within the framework of a final agreement with Israel - and that if seems ever more pertinent to the conversation - it needs to stop the grandstanding.