Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to get out in front before the next possible diplomatic catastrophe. By the time the Palestinian delegation comes to New York on Friday to seek a U.N. resolution declaring statehood, Netanyahu plans to tell his own story and try to frame the debate.
The White House is still licking its wounds from May, when Netanyahu came to Washington and routed the administration by taking Israel’s case directly to Congress. It’s hard to imagine he’ll have much trouble duplicating the feat at the U.N., since the ultimate audience is essentially the same — U.S. public opinion.
“It’s a perfect venue for making Israel look like David going up against Goliath,” said Martin Kramer, the Wexler-Fromer fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.
While Middle Eastern and European media typically portray Israel as the bully, the optics at the U.N. — with virtually everyone lined up against the Jewish state — are going to be rather different.
“The Europeans,” said Kramer, “are going to be left feeling a little dirty for ganging up on Israel.”
Washington can ill afford a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, since U.S. policy is premised on brokering a negotiated settlement between the parties. The White House has little choice but to veto the statehood resolution if it goes to the Security Council. This will no doubt embarrass Obama, but the much larger concern is the General Assembly. A vote there would likely result in an upgrade of status, with the Palestinians becoming a “nonmember observer state.”
“The key word is state,” says Nathan Thrall, a Jerusalem-based Middle East analyst at the International Crisis Group. This would open the door to the Palestinians’ joining other U.N. bodies, like the International Criminal Court. The Palestinians would endeavor to use the leverage of a General Assembly nod to “statehood” to sic the International Criminal Court on Israeli officials.
It’s not clear that would be a good outcome for the Palestinians either. Congress will almost certainly look to squeeze the Palestinian Authority’s funding, and Abbas will return to Ramallah with little of consequence to show his constituents. The question, says Thrall, is whether Abbas “can be presented with something that looks like a victory” in New York.
Lee Smith is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, where this article is adapted from.