Like the “Saturday Night Live” joke (“Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!”), the Middle East “peace process” is still dormant. The Jerusalem Post reports on the latest bit of fruitless diplomacy:
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday said that the goal at a Quartet meeting in Washington scheduled for Monday will be “to try and adopt a statement that will help the Israelis and Palestinians to bridge the gap, and allow for a return to the negotiating table.”
The Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — are scheduled to meet on July 11, a senior UN diplomat said last week.
In other words, U.S. officials’ efforts to restart talks in the region have flopped, and the Quartet will be back together on Monday meeting among themselves. But what formula is there that would persuade the Palestinians to give up their U.N. ploy, return to the table and force Hamas (a co-partner in the unity government) to accept the Quartet’s principles? There is none, I would suggest.
That doesn’t mean that nothing of significance has happened of late. A Middle East hand tells me, “Opposition to the U.N. vote is growing; Bibi [Netanyahu] has had success in his Balkan trip.”(Haaretz reports: “Central and eastern European states, former Soviet satellites keen to reorient toward the West and liberalize their economies, have been receptive to Netanyahu’s message that a Palestinian statehood accord must be negotiated. Israeli officials say they hope for their abstentions, if not objections, in any UN vote.”) Nevertheless, Netanyahu’s Bulgaria trip did not produce a promise to oppose the Palestinians’ U.N. effort.
Certainly enthusiasm for a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state may have peaked as outside parties recognize that the vote may very well spell the permanent demise of a bilateral peace process, but the Palestinian Authority for now remains committed to going to the United Nations. And the Obama administration remains desperate to avoid exercising a U.N. Security Council vote to block acceptance of a Palestinian state as a new U.N. member.
Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies anticipates that the Quartet will issue a bland pronouncement urging the parties to return to direct negotiations. But the chances of that occurring are diminishing. The French in particular, Schanzer observes, “are largely responsible for the idea [of a U.N. vote] taking flight in Europe.” It is certainly France’s moment to seek a leadership role. “The fact that the U.S. at this moment can’t bring the parties together,” Schanzer explains suggests the degree to which the Obama administration has already lost influence in the region. By the end of next week, efforts will likely be underway to determine the agenda for the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly, with the Palestinian resolution front and center.
Meanwhile, Congress continues to flex its muscles, determined to put some distance between the administration and lawmakers on Israel policy. The latest effort was a unanimous vote on a Senate resolution that calls for Obama to lead efforts to block a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and threatens to “consider restrictions on aid to the Palestinian Authority should it persist in efforts to circumvent direct negotiations by turning to the United Nations or other international bodies.” A similar resolution passed the House yesterday.
One wonders if the administration had been as crystal clear as U.S. lawmakers from the get-go, rather than encouraging Palestinian intransigence and acting as the Palestinians’ broker in negotiations, whether the U.N. gambit would have been nipped in the bud. But then had Obama not fixated on settlement activity, announced it was U.S. policy to base negotiations on the 1967 borders and maintained a muddled position on the Hamas-Fatah unity government (promising Israel shouldn’t have to sit down with Hamas while simultaneously insisting Israel return to the negotiating table before September), the parties might have been at least in the same room, as they were in the Clinton and Bush administrations, rather than in a face-off that only highlights the Obama administration’s ineptitude.
There may well be last minute machinations to head off a U.N. vote. Schanzer suggests there might be an opening to water down a U.N. resolution to blunt its impact. But unless a dramatic change of events occurs, the Israel delegitimizers will score a win, the Obama administration will suffer a humiliation and Congress and the American people will rightly ask why taxpayers are supporting the U.N. and the PA.