Clemons: Obama stance on Palestine’s UN application “has assured the rise of Hamas and the legitimation of violence”

Because this issue may be off the radar for many in the U.S., a little background first.

Earlier this month, in an attempt to break the stalemate with Israel over Palestinian statehood, the PLO decided unilaterally to seek recognition from the U.N. Al-Jazeera (I did some re-paragraphing and added emphasis):

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) will go to the United Nations Security Council and seek full membership in the world body next week, despite the looming threat of a US veto, a Palestinian official said.

The announcement was made by Mohammed Shtayyeh, a senior member of Fatah’s central committee, at a news conference in Ramallah on Tuesday. Fatah is the largest Palestinian faction in the PLO. His announcement would seem to end months of speculation about the PLO’s diplomatic strategy.

“We are going to the United Nations, we are going to the Security Council,” Shtayyeh said. “We are going to seek full membership based on 1967 borders.” … Full recognition would allow Palestine to vote at the UN, and to join the International Criminal Court and other world bodies.

Nice — in the U.S. that’s called an “end-around,” a term from American football.

Read the full Al-Jazeera article for the implications of that move; it’s well explained. If you do, note that Hamas, the most militant of the major Palestinian groups, is opposed to the application. Steve Clemons comments on that aspect below.

Al-Jazeera noted at the time that the “PLO will have little trouble securing the required two-thirds majority at the General Assembly”. The problem is at the Security Council, where the U.S. has a veto and earlier said it would use it.

Now comes President Obama. On Sept 21, the president stated his opposition to the Palestinian application. SF Chronicle (my emphasis):

U.S. President Barack Obama underlined yesterday (Sept 21) that his position had not budged when he told the gathering of world leaders that “peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN.” There was little in his words to encourage Palestinians or sway Abbas to change course.

“It didn’t really take us forward to anywhere,” said Shtayyeh in a telephone interview. “The negotiations themselves are in a crisis. We took this initiative to change the status quo.”

Another option open to the Palestinians would be to pursue an upgraded status at the General Assembly, from “entity” to “non-member state,” such as the Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic Church, based in the Vatican. That could enable them to sign international treaties and have cases heard in the International Criminal Court.

Which leaves things as they are. In football terms, Obama stuffed the play for no gain.

Which brings us to Steve Clemons, Washington editor-at-large for The Atlantic. His headline:

Obama Tells Palestinians to Stay in Back of the Bus

Here’s the gist of his thinking (again my emphasis):

President Obama, who in earlier years at the UN chastised Mahmoud Abbas, Benjamin Netanyahu, and George Mitchell for not getting more quickly on a constructive peace track, who felt that achieving an Israel-Palestine two state deal was of such strategic significance to the United States that he made it one of the very first out-of-the gate priorities of his administration, has not only offered nothing new to break the Israel-Palestine negotiations deep freeze but has acquiesced to the very narrative that on the negotiations that Israel embraces. For Israel at the moment, doing nothing is best.

Obama continues to parrot the line that peace can only be achieved between the “two parties”, that only they can really bring this global ulcer to a close, when they decide to negotiate. The fact is that the status quo of frozen negotiations is benefiting the dominant, settlement-expanding Israel — and the US, in promising to veto at the UN Security Council Palestine’s bid for official state recognition, is playing guarantor to one side, undermining the aspirations of others on the other side of the equation. What if the US had said to Kosovo — no statehood, no recognition from the US until you resolve all of your ongoing issues with Russia?

Obama’s position on this is dangerous in another sense as well. Obama — who looked to so many early in his rock star style rise to the Presidency as a leader on the level of a Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or Mandela — has assured the rise of Hamas, the legitimation of violence in pursuit of Palestinian political goals, by yet again showing that peaceful, non-violent moderates like Mahmoud Abbas ultimately get nothing — even if they play the role of the “good Palestinian,” the one who listens to his masters, who doesn’t get too disturbed when humiliated at Israel’s border check points and at UN Security Council meetings.

The choice is clear. It’s not about supporting Israel vs. Palestine. It’s about supporting Israel and Hamas vs. the PLO and Fatah. As Steve Clemons notes, Obama has, in effect, chosen to support Hamas (that’s the feisty brother) over the PLO (the one who wants to make peace).

That will have consequences, and not in a good way. Here’s a look at those 1967 borders, by the way — third from the left. At the far left is what they started with. At the far right is the situation today.

There’s a good side, however. The decision in the U.N. is not made, it’s just (endlessly) delayed. The Chronicle again:

The U.S. and Israel have leaned on council members favoring the statehood initiative to abstain from voting, leaving the Palestinians fighting to retain support. Allowing the UN’s administrative process to delay the consideration in the 15- member body [the Security Council] will permit the Palestinians to save face and buy diplomats time to look for an alternative that restarts peace talks.

Let’s hope Mr. Obama and his team recalculates their choices in time to make a better one. (And let’s hope electoral politics doesn’t have a place in this.)

The PLO and the U.N. may not have a deadline, but I’ll bet Hamas does.


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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