By JONATHAN S. TOBIN, COMMENTARY—
Israel is being criticized today in the world press for playing hardball with five of the 12 non-aligned nations that had hoped to gather in Ramallah to formally back the Palestinian Authority’s latest attempt to get the United Nations to back their bid for statehood. The delegations from Algeria, Bangladesh, Cuba, Indonesia and Malaysia who sought to enter the territories while sticking to their non-recognition of the Jewish state were not allowed in, effectively spiking the entire event. The collapse of what the PA had hoped would be a “Ramallah Declaration” was just the latest indication that the Palestinians’ latest UN bid might end as badly as their first try. However, the Palestinians are smart enough to know that placing your chips on the ability of a disorganized and powerless faction like the Non-Aligned Movement isn’t a good bet.
Far more significant than the posturing in Ramallah were the comments by aides of PA President Mahmoud Abbas that their UN campaign would be largely put on hold until after the U.S. presidential election. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas is planning to soft pedal his UN effort until November because he understands that any talk about the Palestinians could hinder Obama’s re-election hopes. Though the PA has been dismayed by the president’s election year Jewish charm offensive that has seen their concerns pigeonholed in Washington, Abbas is clearly hoping for a better result once Obama is safely returned to office.
Abbas had hoped the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement’s Palestine Committee in Ramallah would give him a boost, but the collapse of the publicity stunt is yet another setback for his diplomatic offensive. Israel will be accused of playing the bully in this incident, and the Palestinians may think it will serve their cause, but the spectacle of nations that don’t recognize Israel’s existence seeking entry via Israeli crossings is not likely to harm the Jewish state.
If anything, the contretemps is a reminder that what the PA is trying to execute is an end run around the peace process. They want independence and Israel’s withdrawal from disputed territory but are not willing to negotiate about it and instead are simply demanding the UN hand it to them on a silver platter. Last summer, the world press was abuzz with predictions of a “diplomatic tsunami” which would swamp Israel as the Palestinians were acclaimed at the UN. But the tsunami was barely a light sprinkle as the world yawned and refused to back their play. Though it is still possible that with the help of the Non-Aligned nations they can upgrade their membership privileges via a UN General Assembly resolution, such a step would entail considerable risks for the PA, including the loss of U.S. funding as well as Israeli financial retaliation.
As for their cherished hopes that a second Obama administration would do their bidding, that is exactly the sort of rumbling that scares Democrats who fear Jewish voters will remember the three years of administration pressure on Israel rather than the last few months of friendship. But even though the Palestinians have good reason to think that a Romney administration would be far less willing to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction as Obama has done, they need to remember why they’ve accomplished nothing in the past four years.
Even though Obama has been the least friendly president to Israel in at least a generation, the Palestinians got nothing out of it. President Obama picked fights with Israel over settlements, the 1967 lines and the status of Jerusalem, but the Palestinians still struck out because they foolishly thought Obama would do all their dirty work for them and still refused to negotiate.
Israelis may worry about what Obama’s re-election will mean for them, as they know it is a certainty that the charm offensive will end the day after the election. But they can take comfort in the fact that it isn’t likely that Mahmoud Abbas will get any braver or smarter in the next four years. Even with a friend in the White House, the Palestinians will gain no territory or a state so long as they are unwilling to negotiate. Nor can they hope to achieve those goals unless they are prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Because that is still a virtual impossibility, their faith in Obama or the ability of any American politician to help them is clearly misplaced.