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Say Goodbye to the Failed 'Peace Process' as Palestine Goes to the UN

It's outrageous that Washington is threatening the Palestinians and the UN itself with dire consequences if a move is made toward UN recognition of statehood.

Take away the crass political motives, and what is left in the U.S. plan to veto Palestinian membership in the UN can be summed up in one word: chutzpah. The U.S. is threatening to veto a resolution aimed at achieving something Washington claims it supports — a Palestinian state (truncated, still-occupied, demilitarized and divided but nominally independent) side by side with Israel — because it doesn't like the venue where this particular step toward statehood is underway.

It’s hardly news that the U.S. only supports a Palestinian state created under its own control, within the parameters of its own U.S.-dominated “peace process,” whose 20 painful years have achieved only failure — and worse. The U.S. only supports a Palestinian “state” shaped by the realities of U.S. and Israeli power, not one based on human rights and international law. 

The debate over Palestinian statehood and UN membership at this year’s General Assembly meeting has brought the usually staid opening debate to a fever pitch of U.S. pressure, Israeli threats, European division and Palestinian ambiguity. (It shouldn’t be so fraught — according to the  Guardian, countries that recognize Palestine represent about 80 percent of the global population, while the ones that don’t have 75 percent of the world’s cash.) Pretty much everyone agrees there’s not a chance that the decision, whatever it might be, will actually change anything on the ground. So why the near-hysteria in the diplomatic world? 

The answer lies in three separate but interlocking realities: the changing U.S. policy toward the Middle East in the midst of the Arab Spring; the UN unchanging U.S. policy toward Israel in the midst of election politicking; the divided opinion among Palestinians about the wisdom and significance of the initiative. 

The Arab Spring and Palestine

The challenge to, and overthrow of, U.S.-backed dictators across the Arab world is changing landscapes across the region and in countries far from the Middle East. The notion now spreading throughout the Arab Spring, that a revolutionary process could contain within it both an internal focus (the shaking up of old social hierarchies) and an external focus (aimed at shaking out old leaders and old ideas), had its roots in the first Palestinian uprising, the socially inclusive, grassroots-based and non-violent intifada that began a generation ago in 1987. So it should not surprise anyone that Palestinians are still engaged in nonviolent mobilization that aims both to end Israeli occupation, settlement, and apartheid, and to democratize and hold accountable its own internal leadership. 

For the U.S., the Arab Spring has transformed the diplomatic/political landscape in the region. For the first time since before World War II, the U.S. cannot rely on sycophantic Arab dictators willing to viciously suppress their own people in order to sign friendly oil contracts and make nice to Israel, while maintaining the good ties to Washington that keep the stream of arms sales and foreign aid flowing. For the first time, some Arab regimes are being forced to at least partly take into account popular opinion. So this time, in such a heated and high-profile atmosphere, a U.S. veto will almost certainly lead to significant diplomatic challenges for Washington’s military, resource, economic and political relations. 

The Obama Administration, Israel and Elections

What makes navigating these treacherous new waters even more difficult for the Obama administration is the usual problem often facing U.S. policy toward the Middle East: U.S. strategic interests (supporting Palestine’s UN bid would go far to win over skeptical Arab populations and their nervous governments) are constrained by domestic political interests. That is, the spurious but widely accepted view in the pro-Israel lobby, that Obama is somehow “too tough on Israel,” means that fear is on the rise in the White House about the possible loss of Jewish organizing support and especially Jewish campaign contributions in the 2012 election.  

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