September 15, 2011 | Quote

A U.N. Vote: A Loss for Israel and a Humiliation for the U.S.

I spoke this morning with Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. Before his testimony he went to the Middle East to glean information about the upcoming vote and the reaction of Palestinians to the potential for U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood in some form.

There was a hint in the Jerusalem Post report from the Czech prime minister: “When asked how his country planned on vote on the statehood bid, Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas said, ‘I would like to emphasis that at this moment I am unfamiliar with the format and context of the request.’ ” Schanzer explains that Nečas was not being coy. While it is “incredibly late in the game,” Schanzer says, there is a push to find an alternative resolution. Such an alternative would “clear the way for negotiations. Israel’s rights would be acknowledged to stave off legal poison [by action at the International Criminal Court].” In essence, the resolution, if one can be crafted, would attempt to keep the negotiation track open and make clear that final borders would need to be agreed upon by the parties.

The key in all this is the EU, Schanzer explains. A unified EU position is “incredibly important for the PA.” If the EU could agree (a big if, considering the members met in Warsaw on Sept. 3 and still haven’t come to agreement) on an alternative, Israel would certainly not be pleased (since the PA is in violation of the Oslo process by going around the bargaining table), but it would likely be relieved if the measure was something short of a flat-out recognition of statehood. While France has been carrying the PA’s water (with the Irish and Brits close behind), Germany now is in the cat-bird’s seat. If Germany votes no on statehood, the PA comes away disappointed. If, however Germany can sway the EU to agree to an alternative resolution, the PA will be in a poor position to object.

How did we get to this point? Well, for starters the U.S. has been inert in trying to forge an alternative until now. Moreover, it has squandered its prestige and influence in the region. Schanzer emphasizes that the U.N. push is a Mahmoud Abbas move, not a unified Palestinian effort. In his recent trip, Schanzer found no excitement even within the PA for this venture. This is, by and large, a gambit by Abbas and his small circle of cronies. ”It is a personal challenge to the U.S.,” he says. “This is designed to isolate the U.S. as much as Israel.”

Schanzer says that the administration should have taken a page from the Bush foreign policy handbook. In the Bush years, the U.S. moved to isolate Yasser Arafat. However, in the Obama administration, “The U.S. has given Abbas free reign and he has exploited it.”

So we find the U.S. now as a bit player. Schanzer says, “That the EU has to play this role is a sad statement” on the ineffectiveness of the U.S.

Schanzer, in his testimony, noted several interesting developments. U.S. taxpayer money, he says, is being funneled through the PA to Gaza to pay for an electric generator. Hamas, nevertheless, charges Gazans and pockets the U.S. money. We are helping Hamas to raise “millions of dollars,” Schanzer says. Second, the bad old days of PA corruption are back. “Abbas and his sons have gotten wealthy,” he tells me. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is relegated to the role of a glorified clerk, a step down from the role the West hoped he would play in leaning up the PA governing bodies. And finally, Schanzer obtained the “pay scale” for the PA for prisoners in Israeli jails. “The longer you are in prison, the money you make.” In other words, violence pays for the Palestinians.

Issues:

International Organizations Israel Palestinian Politics