The Palestinian Bid for Statehood: Dire Implications for the U.S.

Since the 1970s, America has been the main peace broker in the Arab-Israeli conflict.  For the most part, a succession of U.S. administrations decided to take a step-by-step approach -- acting as the third party at the peace table, using a gentle but firm hand to bring the main parties together.  Long ago, the U.S. adopted the "land for peace" formula, which became a "two-state solution" mantra in recent years. 

Through the struggles and pitfalls of America's obsession to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there have been U.S. foreign policymakers that have set the timetables.  The White House, working closely with the State Department, has taken strident measures to determine the various avenues towards peace.  Special envoys have been established to oversee American goals.  They have attempted to control the daily agenda at summits, to extract concessions from the Israelis and the Palestinians, while pushing and pressuring interlocutors at the peace table.  All that may be changing now.

This week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to ask the U.N. world body to recognize a Palestinian state on land that has not been successfully negotiated with the Israelis.  It's a brazen act of aggression by the Palestinians to change the endgame.  Abbas believes that U.N. recognition of "Palestine" as the 194th member-state will prevent the U.S. from calling the shots behind closed doors.  Israel will no longer be able to claim specific parts of the land as "disputed."  Abbas thinks that once a Palestinian state is officially recognized by the world, he can then look to the International Court to begin legal proceedings against the thousands of Israelis living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).  Abbas and his entourage of Palestinian leaders may be attempting to take the U.S. out of the equation altogether.

Since the early 1970s, American presidents have been seen shaking hands with Arab and Israeli leaders at the White House, Camp David, and other locations -- sometimes signing treaties, sometimes not, but always with an eye towards being the nation that brokered the final peace deal in the region.

The Palestinians became a main focus in the conflict in 1991 during the Madrid Conference.  Then, the U.S. was involved in the implementation of the Oslo Accords, the Hebron Agreement, the Wye River Memorandum, the Camp David 2000 Summit, Clinton's Parameters and Taba talks, the Road Map for Peace, the Annapolis Conference, and finally, direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians in 2010.

During the past two years, the American administration has realized that U.S. influence in the Middle East has been waning.  Partly as a result of this assessment, U.S. President Barack Obama along with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been adamant in insisting that the Palestinians stop the U.N. bid for statehood.  But, even with the White House threatening sanctions and Congress threatening a withholding of financial aid, Mahmoud Abbas has not been deterred from his course.

Recently, Abbas met with American special envoys to the Middle East, David Hale and Dennis Ross.  During the meeting, both men expressed strong objections to the Palestinian approach.  Abbas hardly listened.  In fact, he has spent the past two years trying to attract European and Arab leaders to his cause, intent on weakening U.S. diplomatic efforts in the region.  Furthermore, he has threatened the Obama administration, stating that if America vetoes a U.N. resolution that favors Palestinian statehood, this will signal that the U.S. is not in favor of a two-state solution.  This is entrapment at its best.

The Palestinian leadership can also be expected to rally Arab leaders in the Middle East to take action against U.S. interests in the region after the U.N. meetings are concluded this week.

The approach of Abbas is to do an end run so that the U.S. no longer controls the parameters of the process of peace.  Instead, as a proposed U.N. member, the new fledgling Palestinian state would attempt to claim that Israel is militarily occupying its territory.  A scenario could be played out where the new Palestinian president would look to the Arab League and other internationally recognized bodies for help in preserving what would now be seen as Palestinian, not Israeli territory.  In addition, border disputes could be brought to the Quartet (the U.N., U.S., EU, and Russia), and not to the U.S. alone.  In this regard, the U.S. would be one of only several brokers involved at the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating table.

It's expected that the U.S. will use its veto power in the U.N. Security Council this week, as it has done so in the past, to block a resolution it firmly opposes.  But, regardless of how the Palestinian statehood issue plays out, it's clear what Abbas has in mind long-term.  He is internationalizing the conflict to reduce American influence in the region.  Putting Palestinian statehood in the hands of the U.N. takes it out of the hands of the Americans.  Israel's main Western ally will suffer humiliation. 

This confrontational approach on the part of the Palestinian leadership is hurting U.S. attempts to forge reconciliation efforts with the Muslim world, where it has already been on shaky ground diplomatically.  The current Palestinian bid for statehood at the U.N. is embarrassing for the U.S.  America has invested millions of dollars into the Palestinian economy, strengthened its state institutions, and trained its police force while issuing Palestinian troops American-made weapons.  Now, the Palestinian leadership are defying America's role as the main power broker in their dispute with the Israelis.

Despite U.S. efforts for over 40 years to forge a peace between Israel and her neighbors, the Palestinians have forged their own way to peace.  It's a road that is leaving American diplomacy in the dust.  It's a stab in the back to U.S. mediation efforts.  Furthermore, it will cause U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East to fall off the beaten track into the abyss.

Perhaps, America will never regain its special prominence as the leading nation of the free world that could inspire hope among the people of the Middle East region.  Some were actually starting to believe that peace could be attained between Israel and the Palestinians.  This week at the U.N. could now prove otherwise.

C. Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.