The issue: Current situation in the Mideast has bought Israel some time to start resolving the Palestinian issue
If the United Nations’ elevation of Palestine to nonmember observer status had come at the end of the Clinton administration when Israel and the Palestinians were achingly close to a peace settlement, it might have truly meant something.
But while last Thursday’s 138-9 vote among the U.N.’s more than 190 members is a triumph for the Palestinians — at least that part of them led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — it is hardly likely to change that stalemate in the short run.
ISRAELI PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown little interest in pursuing the two-state solution — Israel and an independent Palestine living peacefully side by side — favored by the last four U.S. presidents.
Instead, he has used the time to gradually encroach on parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank that the Palestinians consider their own and, in the case of East Jerusalem, want for their capital.
If anything, however, progress is beginning to look more like a three-state problem: Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, the latter run for the last five years by Hamas, a radical Islamic group that did not join in the Palestinian merriment over its diplomatic promotion because Hamas does not recognize Israel and claims all of the old Palestine for itself.
Needless to say, this gives the Israelis little incentive to deal with Hamas, and Israel’s successful “Iron Dome” missile defense seems to have temporarily, at least, defanged Hamas of its principal terror weapon, random missile attacks against Israeli civilian targets.
However, in the long term, the vote was hardly meaningless, as Netanyahu and Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., put it. The Palestinians have steadily been building an international presence.
THE VOTE was a harsh rebuke to the United States and Israel: The nine nations that voted against observer status also included — aside from the U.S. and Israel — Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama, hardly a murderers’ row of diplomatic might.
The new status gives Palestine access to U.N. international agencies, including the International Criminal Court where Israeli annexation of Palestinian land would not fare well under international law.
Meanwhile, the political landscape is shifting in dramatic and unforeseen ways: the Arab Spring, the turmoil in Egypt, the civil war in Syria, the increased meddling by Iran and what appears to be a hardening Shiite-Sunni divide, and a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism.
Curiously, the current situation has bought Israel some time — not necessarily “benign neglect,” but neglect when the Islamic nations are preoccupied elsewhere — to start resolving the Palestinian issue.
SOONER OR LATER, the Islamic nations will again be able to turn their attention back to the Israelis and it would be immensely useful if they no longer had Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as a rallying cry against them — and us.