Accounts of the big diplomatic showdown facing the United Nations when the Palestinian bid for statehood is filed Friday, Sept. 23 have been blown up and overdramatized . Neither the Security Council nor the UN General Assembly will be making any immediate decisions this week and US President Barack Obama will not be called on as yet to veto the Palestinian application. Therefore the dispute over which side can muster the magic majority of nine members is premature.
Indeed, debkafile's diplomatic sources are assured that UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon and the United States, which holds the key to the tussle, have arranged to put the Palestinian application on hold – or more diplomatically, under consideration, a process which could consume weeks if not months – before it is referred to the Security Council.
In the volatile Middle East, a couple of months are a long time; the Arab uprisings have demonstrated how much can happen in a short period.
After the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu deliver their speeches on Friday, the General Assembly is not expected to get right down to debating the Palestinian request. It will most likely be held in abeyance for the next session. A special session might be summoned in the interim, but that is the UN Secretary General's prerogative and he normally makes these decisions in consultation with the White House.
Therefore, the real diplomatic battle over the Palestinian drive for UN acceptance will not take place this week in the GA chamber where the speeches are made, but in Washington. The Obama administration has absurdly been maneuvered, or maneuvered itself, into the lead role for defeating the Palestinian claim for an independent state within the 1967 borders.
The high point of Obama's May 19 address on the Middle East was a call for Israel to accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. He refrained from a demand to demilitarize the prospective state. Five months later, he is bending every ounce of diplomatic leverage to prevent the Security Council from approving a Palestinian state's acceptance by the world body.
Obama's path to this quandary was littered with missteps. His ultimatum to the Netanyahu government to halt settlement construction on the West Bank was later abandoned but it had meanwhile been hijacked by Abbas as his main pretext for rejecting direct talks with Israel and turning to the UN.
Further US weakness was displayed in the Middle East Quartet's inability to reach a decision this week on how to deal with the diplomatic crisis posed by the Palestinian bid.
Composed of representatives from the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN, the Quartet used to be the supreme body for shaping international consensus on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This time, Washington's lead was not strong enough to pull the parties together and, moreover, the US and Europe are discovering they are beginning to pay for their involvement through NATO in the Libyan conflict.
Russia is playing hard to get and deliberately slowing the momentum of Middle East diplomacy in protest against what Moscow sees as US and European participation in the conquest of Libya, which has gone well beyond their UN Security Council mandate. The Russians were also obstructive on the Syrian issue. They torpedoed every Security Council resolution penalizing and condemning Bashar Assad for his barbaric methods in suppressing dissent, maintaining they would not allow the West to repeat its Libya scenario in Syria.
Now, Moscow is trying to trap the United States into exercising its Security Council veto power against the Palestinian application for UN membership, in order to support its claim that Washington maintains a double standard on the Middle East – defeating Palestinian independence on the one hand and preaching the Arab peoples' rights to oust their rulers in the name of independence, on the other.
Moscow, partnered actively by Mahmoud Abbas, would thus aim to strip the United States of its last vestiges of credibility in the Arab world.
With no exit from this predicament, Washington and Jerusalem are resorting to the language of threats.
The Palestinians are warned by White House sources that unless they withdraw their application for UN recognition, they will face severe measures. They were given to understand that the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah stood to lose all or part of the half-billion dollars of its annual aid allocation.
Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz also warned Tuesday, Sept. 20, that Israel would consider halting the transfer of customs revenues to the PA.
Abbas and his party are putting a brave face on these threats. They say loss of income will not deter them from their drive for UN acceptance. The Palestinians say their Arab allies have pledged to make up any shortfall sustained in consequence of their UN initiative.
But they know as well as anyone that no Arab government aside from Saudi Arabia and some of the Arab Gulf emirates will make good on those pledges because they are all wholly preoccupied with the unrest sweeping their streets and have no time or cash to spare for the Palestinians.
Once the Abbas initiative is seen to be hanging fire, the situation on Palestinian home ground could turn nasty.
Ramallah, Wednesday, Sept. 21, saw the first large Palestinian gathering of several marches and rallies scheduled for the coming days to celebrate their approaching independence.
These demonstrations of joy, financed by Abbas and his associates out of the PA's half-empty coffers, are scheduled to climax with his speech Friday and roll on into Saturday.
However, once the penny drops and the Palestinian request is seen to be held up, these rallies may turn to violence against the security forces fielded both by Abbas and Israel to keep them within bounds and out of Israeli locations.
It is more than likely that Hamas, which rules the separate Palestinian Gaza Strip, the Islamic Jihad and Hizballah – both Iranian proxies – will turn the crowded streets into stages for mounting terrorist activity, without even waiting for instructions from Tehran and Damascus.
They would aim not just to punish Israel but to torpedo the Palestinian UN initiative which the rejectionists and extremists regard as a forbidden compromise on their claim to every inch of Palestinian soil and Israel's removal. They would also seek to challenge the credibility and potency of the Palestinian leader and his US-trained security legions.
This outlook will be further exacerbated when the Palestinian Authority, deprived of aid funds, cannot pay wages to civil and security personnel. Without pay, they may well vent their frustrations on the Palestinian Authority heads, especially Abbas, and Israel. No one can tell whether Syria, where Assad is in the last stages of suppressing the uprising against his regime, and Iran – through Hizballah, Hamas and Jihad Islami – will intervene.
With these fraught prospects in mind, it is no wonder that the Israeli Prime Minister delayed his takeoff for New York by 45 minutes Wednesday morning for an urgent conference at the airport with Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz.
Later Wednesday, he has an appointment at UN Center with President Obama.