November 28, 2012
Platitude diplomacy and the future of Palestine
That France and Spain have decided to go along with Palestinians' bid to gain upgraded status of non-member state observer at the UN is not necessarily good news for Palestine. Yes, the Palestinians are going to get what they want – this much was clear long ago – supported by a more robust and diversified majority of states. Yes, they will somewhat embarrass the US, which is still opposing this unilateral move. Yes, this means that Israel failed to convince Spain and France to play a more constructive role in the region. But what does such failure mean?
It might mean that European countries are getting tired of Israel and its tendency to drag its feet; that in European capitals, diplomats have decided that the only way to advance a healthy and fruitful peace process, the only way to bring about the establishment of a viable Palestinian state is to upgrade the Palestinians' status at the UN; to spite Israel; to spite, maybe shame the U.S.; to rock the boat; to give Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas some kind of achievement.
But it also might mean something else entirely: that the world is tired of the peace process, and is bored by the need to give it a second thought; that European countries have no intention of spending time on the Palestinians and are happy to be let off the hook by way of providing meaningless platitudes of little consequence; that Spain and France would take the easy way out – give them what they want as long as it doesn't cost us anything; that the U.S. is the only country opposing this move because it is really the only country that still wants to bring the two sides together.
The UN vote Thursday is likely to have some interesting implications on the future of Israeli-Palestinian talks:
1. It will demonstrate that Israel's dependence on U.S. support is greater than ever, and will make the U.S. the only reliable facilitator of any peace process (it already has such a status, but the vote will make other countries even more suspicious than they are now). It will also put Israel in a very tough position when the U.S. insists on Israeli concessions.
2. After the vote the Palestinians will have a choice: to keep confronting the U.S., in the hope that more votes and more shaming will make Washington more inclined to use its leverage and pressure Israel – or to make do with the current achievement and go back to America-facilitated talks.
3. If they choose confrontation, they might discover that the support they get from the rest of the world really is what I suspect: platitude diplomacy. In such case, their gain at the UN will pale in comparison to their loss of U.S. interest in assisting them.
4. On the other hand, some diplomats in Jerusalem are afraid (the role of the diplomat is to always be afraid) that the shaming of the U.S. might actually work. The staunch support of the Obama team thus far gives them some reason for hope, but they are still keeping a wary eye on the battle over the State Department, and wonder what a Secretary Rice or a Secretary Kerry might want to do with the peace process. Both of them – one government official told me last week – are more inclined than the current secretary to want the approval and the support of Europeans.
5. The Palestinians probably calculated correctly: Israel can't do much by way of retribution for the vote. Yes, it can make life harder for the PA, but this might help other, more extreme Palestinian forces such as Hamas. Israel might be angry, but it's not (always) stupid. So Abbas will probably get away with it this time. But more such moves might well change the equation.
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