So if all goes as threatened tomorrow, the legs could get kicked out from under US diplomatic efforts across the Middle East/Islamic world. That's because Tuesday was the day set by President Mahmood Abbas to petition the United Nations to admit Palestine as a full member-state, a petition the United States has already publicly promised to veto on behalf of Israel.
Last week the Saudis issued a dire warning via the pages of the New York Times that a veto would make the United States “toxic” across the region and could put an end to the decades-long US-Saudi love affair. It was a warning so dire, that you're almost inclined to ignore it, to simply dismiss it as another bit of hyperbole in a region long noted for such verbal excess. But things have changed in the MENA (Mid-East/North Africa) region. The “Arab Spring” has made despots take note that you sometimes actually have to listen to your people. And while the House of Saud has managed to stave off overthrow, they have done so with a mix of security crackdowns and by passing out tens of billions in social aid to the growing Saudi underclass; no wonder they're worried about how “toxic” America might become.
The Arab street is sure to take a veto as yet another put-down of the long oppressed Palestinian people; but I'm viewing a veto as an incredibly hypocritical move on the part of the United States, for two reasons. First, the US has spent much of 2011 cheerleading (in the case of Egypt), threatening (in the case of Syria) or bombing (in the case of Libya) on behalf of some notion of self-determination among the oppressed Arab peoples. Yet in the case of Palestine, we're taking the opposing position – continuation of a status quo that fundamentally denies Palestinians many of the rights that we're saying the Egyptians, Syrians and Libyans deserve; all, apparently, because it doesn't fit into our preconceived notion of how the Palestinians should gain these rights and because Israel opposes it – neither is a terribly convincing argument in favor of a veto.
To make matters worse, a veto of Palestinian membership would go against the precedent that the United States itself set for such situations with Kosovo back in 2008. The Kosovars had been engaged in a multi-year, UN-overseen process of negotiating a settlement of final status with Serbia (Serbia wanted Kosovo to remain part of the country, the Kosovars wanted to split), when the Kosovo side decided that the talks were going nowhere and unilaterally declared their independence from Serbia. The United States, along with Great Britain and France, were quick to recognize the independence of Kosovo, even though it was in explicit violation of the UN-led process and seemingly out of step with the norms of international law – the argument was that the Kosovars' right to self-determination had to be respected more than some UN “process”. Then there's Palestine, which has been involved in two decades of negotiations started in 1993 under the Oslo Accords with Israel as part of the “two-state solution” that would see the creation of a nation of Palestine. From the Palestinian point of view, that day will never come; the negotiations, when they even happen, seem endless, and in the meanwhile Israel continues to expand “settlements” in the West Bank that every year gobble up a little more of the land that would one day become the Palestinian state. And despite American insistence that all parties return to the negotiating table, there is zero reason to expect there to be any substantive movement, let alone a real breakthrough, so President Abbas has decided enough is enough and is using the UN declaration as an end-run around a moribund process.
Given the precedent we unwillingly set with Kosovo, the United States should be a vocal supporter of Palestinian membership in the UN, but instead, we are promising a veto. And before you say that the difference is terrorism, it is worth noting that the Kosovo Liberation Army, which became the government of Kosovo, was and is considered a terrorist organization by Serbia and as late as the 1990s was also considered a terrorist organization with possible ties to al-Qaeda by other countries, including the United States.
But while the Kosovars were supposedly within their rights to short-circuit continued negotiations they found pointless, the Palestinians are committing a breach of international law by taking the same action. Saudi Arabia's Turki al-Faisal is likely right in saying the veto will fuel anti-American anger in the Arab street, the rest of the world may just take note of the rank hypocrisy of the move.
1 day ago