“Our choice is the Security Council,” Abbas said in a speech in the West Bank. “As for other options, we will not make a decision on them. We will decide about any other options later.”
Obama, who has promised to veto any such Security Council resolution, had hoped to persuade Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations as an alternative to the statehood initiative. Israel has said “grave consequences” would follow a Palestinian statehood bid, and U.S. and European diplomats have been scrambling to try to reach a deal that could avert a U.N. vote.
But the U.S. warnings have been ignored, not only by a Palestinian leadership that feels betrayed by the Obama administration, but also by an Israeli government that believes Washington is giving it short shrift.
The reasons for the Israeli rebuff of U.S. overtures reflect the domestic political considerations of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and those of Obama, as well as America’s fading clout in the Middle East.
Netanyahu is more afraid of a right-wing challenge at home than he is of an angry Obama, who is deeply unpopular in Israel and is losing support among American Jewish voters who have been a Democratic bedrock in the past. The two leaders — an odd couple in political outlook and temperament — have had a chilly relationship for most of Obama’s tenure.
In addition, from the Israeli government’s perspective, the United States is a less useful ally in the new Middle East that is emerging, analysts say, despite the billions of dollars in aid it gives Israel every year.
“Why does the U.S. have less influence with Israel right now? In part because the U.S. has less influence with the Arabs,” said Robert Malley, a special assistant to President Bill Clinton on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He now directs the Middle East program at the International Crisis Group.
U.S. officials privately lament their diminishing clout with Netanyahu’s government, which openly feuded with the White House after Obama, early in his presidency, demanded that Israel cease building Jewish settlements in the West Bank, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
Netanyahu agreed to a temporary freeze at great political risk. But that agreement expired soon after Obama inaugurated a new round of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks last year. The negotiations collapsed soon after.
Netanyahu also turned aside an unusually intense U.S. lobbying campaign last month for an Israeli apology for the deaths of nine Turkish civilians last year in a Israeli military raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip, U.S. and Israeli officials acknowledged. One of those killed was also a U.S. citizen.