Just over one year ago, the United States offered Israel a generous package of incentives in a last ditch attempt to persuade the Netanyahu government to extend its 10-month settlement moratorium by an additional three months–an offer it obstinately declined. This seemingly minor episode is just one link in the chain of events that has led the Palestinians to the doorstep of the United Nations in a bid to alter the dynamics of their conflict with Israel.
At the time, the Palestinian leadership threatened that if Israel did not give up their unmitigated settlement construction and return to the negotiation table in good faith, they would be compelled to play one of the other cards up their sleeve.
Netanyahu, proving himself incapable of being the statesman he pledged himself to be, called the Palestinians bluff and forced them to put down on the table the only practicable card they were actually holding, going to the UN. It was an idea that in actuality, had not been given much forethought to its implications and the inevitability of international involvement to dissuade the Palestinians from altering the status-quo and making things uncomfortable for everybody.
This impulse was only made worse when the Israelis, acting in characteristic fashion, overreacted. And it being irresistible from a Palestinian point of view to watch the Israelis squirm, the ball was permitted to keep rolling down the hill until the point where the Palestinian leadership was no longer able to stop it.
It was at this point that the Americans, deeming the Palestinians to be serious, began to get worried. President Obama had already capitulated to Netanyahu once before, after having witnessed the Israeli Prime Minister flex his political muscles in Washington and showcasing that Israel could do what the American President in all his efforts could not, cross the partisan divide. Congress once again showed where its allegiance lay, and threatened the Palestinians with an end to US aid if they executed their plans.
Obama knew that if the Palestinians went to the United Nations then he would be forced to take Israel’s side, contradicting his own policies and making his administration look more foolish and weak than it already had before. This is something that he could not abide.
Both Israel and America went on the diplomatic offensive, making appeals, bribes and threats to the members of the international community in a mad scramble to convince the Palestinians that they did not have as many friends as they thought they had.
The critical arena for this popularity contest was inevitably going to be the European Union. If Israel and the US could convince Europe’s major players to stand by their side, they believed they could claim the ‘moral minority,’ and that even if the Palestinians got the majority in the UN, it would mitigate the impact of the vote.
On the other hand, if the Palestinians were able to get the European Union to recognize Palestinian statehood at the UN, then Israel would be backed into a corner with the US being the sole protector of an apartheid state.
For their own part, the Europeans remain deeply divided over the issue. Unable to come to an internal consensus and reluctant to choose between the two sides, Europe has gone on an offensive of its own, trying to convince the Palestinians to end this foolish attempt at making the UN an international collision course and return to the negotiation table.
The Quartet, of which the EU and the US are a part, seems more interested in doing whatever it takes to maintain the unsustainable status-quo, then taking creative steps to break the deadlock to achieve a peaceful solution.
Yet, if Netanyahu thought that Abu Mazen had ‘climbed a tall tree’ over the settlements and couldn’t get down, he was on top of the Empire State Building with this one. With no new ideas, a host of domestic problems, and popular turmoil engulfing the region, Abu Mazen has looked around and realized that he cannot climb back down and survive.
It is clear that no matter how much international pressure the PLO leadership receives, they cannot retreat and change course now. The only possibility is that they may lessen the blow by not forcing the United States’ hand in the Security Council. This Friday, President Abbas is scheduled to address his public just days before heading to New York. We will see what he has in mind.
*This article was originally published in Bitterlemons.