The reactions of our fearless diplomats to the UN General Asssembly vote on Palestinian quasi-state status were marvelously contradictory: first, furious lobbying took place to prevent the issue from coming to a vote at all (successful on the first try). Then, when it was obvious that the U.S. was going to lose badly, bland assurances that the whole exercise was meaningless, a position obliquely endorsed by the NY Times headline today, ‘Statehood Is No Closer’.
No, it’s not, but severe diplomatic isolation sure is for the U.S. and its Israeli ally, and any talk of this being irrelevant is complete whistling in the dark. Negotiators and diplomats are extremely conscious of building alliances and really, really like having other guys singing from the same songbook (and conversely, hate it when other countries break ranks). When the Central American wars were raging, State Department people whom I covered in Washington and later in Santiago when they passed through always made a big show of the alliances they had built up with wonderful partners like the Guatemalan dictatorships, the Honduran junta and anyone else they could corral to look less like go-it-alone bullies.
The Times is certainly correct that the vote waves no magic wands, returns no refugees and stops no illegal West Bank settlements. But it is folly to pretend that it is merely ‘symbolic’. After all, symbols are very powerful—take flags or crosses, for example. And having some sort of UN status is a step forward in the Palestinians’ long trek towards having some sort of human and civil rights, which statelessness robs them of, as diaspora Jews know from bitter experience.
One knowledgeable observer explains that there are a number of entirely concrete measures that logically could follow from the Palestinian presence in world bodies as they are now enabled to bring resolutions and complaints before a number of UN bodies.
Over time, such steps could begin having a major impact on settler enterprises and even on the Israeli economy itself (which is fragile and highly dependent on foreign trade with Europe, since its goods are often shunned in the Middle East).
An example is the recent demand of the youth wing of the Swedish Social Democratic Party that Sweden boycott all settler-made goods. (Sweden, a little unexpectedly, voted for the UNGA resolution yesterday). If such demands proliferate, and the next generation of Europeans feels so strongly on this issue, the settlers could end up bankrupted. Over time, such steps could begin having a major impact on settler enterprises and even on the Israeli economy itself (which is fragile and highly dependent on foreign trade with Europe, since its goods are often shunned in the Middle East).
This starts to sound like the anti-apartheid divestiture movement, which cut the props out from under that regime and turned Nelson Mandala from a terrorist pariah into a worldwide hero celebrated by rock stars. We can safely presume that the Israeli hard-liners are extremely disturbed. Not only that, they seem to be suffering from a sort of Romneyoid break with reality are are completely shocked by the diplomatic shellacking suffered from their key European trading partners.
A very smart Israeli Arab journalist once said to me, back in the 1980s: ‘The U.S. has Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. With that, you control the region.’ Only two of those four pillars remain sure things (given the Jordanian king’s vulnerability to Arab springism), and now the Europeans are acting like independent actors capable of real mediation. American pols will continue to wag their tails dutifully at Netanyahu’s command, but the game has changed.