Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is taking his people's bid for statehood to the United Nations this week with a speech set for Friday, followed by a formal application for membership to the U.N. shortly thereafter. If Palestine succeeds in its unilateral efforts, it would be detrimental to U.S. interests in the region, isolate Israel, and deal a major setback to Israeli–Palestinian peace prospects.
Palestine's move comes despite intense U.S. diplomatic efforts and words from President Barack Obama warning that "efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure." The President has vowed to veto any such attempt in the U.N. Security Council and, in a speech yesterday to the U.N., he reaffirmed his support for Israel and a peace process that ensures its security. Heritage's Brett Schaefer, though, writes that the President's words were marred by a soft-pedaling stance toward Palestine.
President Obama proffered a more robust defense of Israel than has been his want, perhaps driven by a desire to bolster waning support among American Jewish voters. Even so, he still maintained a false moral equivalence between the Palestinians and Israel, stating, “That truth – that each side has legitimate aspirations – is what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in each other’s shoes.
The President's words yesterday come after nearly three years of being weak on Israel, failing to condemn those who threaten the country's existence, and failing to draw a distinction between a freedom-loving nation and those who seek to wipe it off the map. Here in America, the President's weakness on Israel drew a strong rebuke in the recent special election in New York's 9th Congressional District where a Republican upset a Democrat in a heavily Jewish, Democratic stronghold. Though any words in support of the United States' friend and ally are welcome, the President has far to go in offering the support that Israel needs and deserves.
Heritage expert James Carafano explains:
Mr. Obama’s approach [to the peace process] has achieved nothing. Instead, the Palestinians are repaying his efforts with a U.N. campaign that seems designed to embarrass the White House. Like Jimmy Carter before him, Mr. Obama is finding that when American presidents present a face of international accommodation and ambivalence, they get taken advantage of. Weakness invites aggression.
Palestine's move, not surprisingly, has drawn stiff opposition from Israel, which sees Palestine's effort as an end-run around the peace process. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the news of Abbas' effort with a stiff condemnation, saying that peace can only be achieved through negotiations:
The leadership of the Palestinian authority has consistently evaded peace negotiations with Israel. When the Palestinian authority abandons these futile and unilateral measures at the UN, it will find Israel to be a genuine partner for direct peace negotiations.
If Palestine fails in its effort to force a vote for statehood in the Security Council, which will occur if the U.S. exercises its veto, it will likely follow up with a General Assembly resolution recognizing its statehood and elevating its status at the U.N. from an observer entity to a non-member state observer. Schaefer explains the ramifications of such a move:
Success in either effort would be detrimental to U.S. and Israeli interests and illustrate the need for a more hard-nosed policy, in coordination with Congress, to use America’s financial leverage to protect and advance U.S. interests at the U.N.
Palestine's efforts this week will prove a test of President Obama's strategy to engage at the U.N., rather than to exercise U.S. muscle in order to advance its interests. But should Palestine succeed and the U.S. fail, Schaefer explains that "it would raise serious questions about the depth of goodwill garnered by its 'engagement' strategy and whether the U.S. should assume a tougher approach at the U.N."
There are other tools at the President's disposal in dealing with the U.N.--namely, Congress. Washington can take a hard-nosed approach and use U.S. financial leverage to advance its policy priorities. And that means withholding contributions to the U.N., as well as foreign aid to countries who vote against U.S. interests.
Palestine itself is one of the largest per capita recipients of foreign aid in the world. As Heritage's James Phillips explained in recent Congressional testimony:
U.S. aid to the Palestinians is aimed at supporting Israeli–Palestinian peace negotiations; strengthening and reforming the Palestinian Authority, which was created through those negotiations; and improving the living standards of Palestinians to demonstrate the benefits of peaceful coexistence with Israel. These are laudable goals, but unfortunately, peace negotiations have bogged down. Even worse, the Palestinian Authority has reached a rapprochement with Hamas, the Islamist extremist organization with a long record of terrorism, which not only is opposed to peace negotiations with Israel, but remains implacably committed to Israel’s destruction.
Now is not the time for President Obama to turn his back on the region’s strongest democracy. Instead, the United States should reaffirm its commitment to strengthening its alliance with Israel and remain strong in the face of U.N. action designed to embarrass the U.S. and weaken the peace process.
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