The two bills, very likely drafted by AIPAC, cite a number of statements by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to support a very strong stance against the Palestinian campaign, highlighting the extent to which the Administration was already behind these efforts, even before Congress added its voice.
The Senate bill (which had 89 co-sponsors and passed by unanimous consent) and the House version (which gathered 356 co-sponsors and passed by a vote of 407-6) both have the point that the Palestinians are “circumventing negotiations” at the heart of their argument.
Not surprisingly, this argument is widely echoed among “pro-Israel” groups in Washington. Michael Singh of the AIPAC-spawned Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) warned that “If indeed the Palestinians seek to circumvent negotiations and seek recognition by the acclamation of the UN General Assembly, the painstaking gains made in Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation will almost certainly be lost.”
Neoconservative leader Elliot Abrams said: “That the PLO is following this path suggests a lack of interest in the genuine negotiations that are the only real path to statehood… But this entire episode reveals a lack of Palestinian seriousness about negotiations and suggests that, while talks may commence and avoid the September UN confrontation, they will go nowhere.”
But Saeb Erekat, a leading PLO negotiator, says the Palestinians are holding fast to the UN course, despite US pressure. “We don’t see a contradiction between the efforts being exerted to revive the peace process and our bid to go to the UN.”
With the number of countries that have already expressed recognition of a Palestinian state, it is a given that any UN vote will favor that state. It’s also a given that this will not confer UN membership on Palestine and won’t change things much from the status quo.
Yet AIPAC has pulled out all the stops, and, with Congress supplying the political pressure, the Obama Administration is treating the Palestinian campaign with extreme gravity. Why the panic?
One reason could be a fear of the ancillary results. The US may be concerned that such a vote, which will provoke massive outrage among the Israeli public, will provoke Israel to take its own, already considerable, unilateral actions in retaliation.
Indeed, Israel warned of just such a reaction today, when the government announced that they were expropriating uncultivated land belonging to a West Bank Palestinian town, Karyut, in order to retroactively attach a settlement outpost called Hayovel to the settlement of Eli. This violates not only Israel’s previous commitments, but also Netanyahu’s own words.
In his famous Bar-Ilan speech where Bibi gave his lip-service acceptance to a two-state solution, Netanyahu said: “We have no intention of building new settlements or of expropriating additional land for existing settlements.”
So much for that.
But the timing seems intended to send the message to Washington that Israel is prepared to make good on its repeated threats to take much more aggressive unilateral actions than its normal expansion of settlements if the Palestinians pursue this UN vote.
Aaron Miller, who worked on these issues for decades, expresses another concern: “The (Obama) administration seems terrified at the prospect of letting matters drift and the prospects of a Palestinian resolution at the UN for which it has no real response. Such an outcome could trigger violence when it becomes clear to Palestinians that very little has changed.”
The more likely scenario, however, is an eruption in the West Bank if the US goes its influence beyond blocking Security Council resolutions into preventing any action even in the UN General Assembly, one of the few global arenas where the Palestinians have any leverage against Israel.
The basic premise of the AIPAC and congressional argument, publicly, is the tired refrain that “only negotiations between the parties” can resolve the conflict.
Yet, as Erekat contended, continued negotiations and UN support for Palestinian statehood are not mutually exclusive. It would strengthen the Palestinian position a bit, but would hardly tilt the balance.
The real issue is that the UN vote would harm the rhetoric of the decomposing “peace process.” The US is desperate to revive negotiations, and the real development they are finding so hard to contend with is that the Palestinian Authority, in the wake of revelations in the Palestine Papers and the general atmosphere of the Arab Spring, is no longer able to pursue negotiations without results.
But the Netanyahu government has determined that the only way it can maintain its policies in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem is under the cover of ongoing talks, and the Obama Administration has no options to offer either party other than a return to the same failed formula.
So, the tool is to accuse the Palestinians of circumventing those negotiations. Ironically, this is precisely the strategy they should pursue, to find alternatives to the same old talks mediated by people like Dennis Ross who are obviously representing Israel. But in fact, as Erekat notes, all this really is is an effort to strengthen the Palestinian hand in those negotiations, even if only a little.
And that sends AIPAC into a frantic lobbying tizzy.