The Palestinian bid for United Nations membership achieved what three fruitless years of talks failed to do. It put the Mideast peace process back on the front page and the global agenda. That was President Mahmoud Abbas' goal all along. But the tactic has forced Israel into a corner and further undermined America's clout with the Arab world, two developments that put a lasting, two-state solution even further away.
Abbas insisted late Thursday he intended to follow through on his plan to apply today for full U.N. membership. The Obama administration has vowed to veto the application as it moves through the Security Council. That leaves the Palestinians with two options: Ask the Security Council to hold its application in abeyance — creating diplomatic space for Israel to return to the negotiating table — or apply to the more friendly General Assembly for lesser "observer" status. But either way, the message was sent and the damage is done.
The Palestinians' frustration is understandable. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blocked several good-faith attempts to revive negotiations. And he has tried to marginalize the constructive role President Barack Obama has tried to play by courting Obama's Republican critics. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been particularly irresponsible in escalating the rhetoric to court Jewish voters at Obama's expense. But Abbas can also blame his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, for walking away from a viable two-state deal. He also can look to the corruption within his own government for the fissure among the Palestinian people and the rise of Hamas and other militant groups that threaten Israel's security. However the drama at the U.N. plays out, the Palestinian bid shows the extent that both sides are relying on brinkmanship as a substitute for leadership and international credibility.
Obama laid out the right parameters for withdrawing from the standoff in his speech Wednesday to the General Assembly. A U.N. recognition of statehood without an agreement on borders, security or the status of Jerusalem is merely a fancy name for the status quo. It only would invite the Palestinians to expand the diplomatic assault against Israel's legitimacy. How anyone would suggest that promotes the peace process or establishes the basis to coexist is beyond us.
The last thing either side should want is to weaken the U.S. position or its ability to act as a broker. Obama lent his voice to the call for democratization long before the advent of this year's Arab Spring. The Palestinians should see that commitment to justice, human rights and free and full participation as a model for their own government. And Israel should see that America's standing in the Arab world could act as a bridge for Israeli security. That is especially important now given the turmoil throughout the Mideast and Africa. All sides should return to the negotiating table before the public chest-beating and overheated rhetoric spirals out of control.