Thwarted at the U.N., is Palestinian leader Abbas headed off into the sunset?

Tony Karon writes: President Mahmoud Abbas’ attempt to persuade the U.N. Security Council to admit a state of Palestine as a full member of the international body has, all too predictably, hit a wall. The technical U.N. committee to which the issue was referred , not surprisingly, failed to reach a consensus (because there’s no consensus among Council members). Even if a vote was held despite that disagreement, it’s unlikely that the Palestinians would achieve the nine ayes that would prompt the U.S. to kill the measure with a veto. Abbas’ aides have been forced to concede defeat.

Most of the international community supports the principle of Palestinian statehood on the 1967 lines — even the U.S. government supports it, although Abbas would be ill-advised to hold his breath waiting, as he has done for two decades, for Washington to deliver that outcome. And even many of those countries that continue — at Washington’s insistence — to mouth the mantra that the only way to get there is in talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu don’t believe that Israel will voluntarily yield to the international consensus on terms for a two-state solution. But it’s naive to imagine that governments cast their votes at the U.N. on the basis of moral choices; more often than not, U.N. votes reflect the balance of power. As long as the U.S. was willing to campaign aggressively against them (it was, with Netanyahu marveling that President Obama “deserved a medal” for his speech scolding the Palestinians) and other key players saw no compelling reason to engage in a sustained diplomatic confrontation with Washington on the issue (none did), predicting the outcome didn’t exactly require clairvoyant powers.

France’s position is instructive: President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose mistrust of Netanyahu is now a matter of public record, warned that France would have to abstain at the Security Council, but promised support for a Palestinian move in the General Assembly to upgrade their status to that of observer state. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel who has twice clashed publicly with the Israeli leader over his settlement policy (and voted against the U.S. last February’s Security Council condemnation of ongoing settlements) also made clear from the get-go that it would vote against admitting Palestine as a U.N. member state.

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