Analysts have already begun discussing what the defeat of the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations Security Council means for Israeli diplomacy and the future of the peace process.
But, despite all the punditry, the entire episode probably contributed more to the talking points of Israel’s right-wing politicians ahead of their party’s primary election than to the prospects of an independent Palestine.
The resolution, which called for the creation of a Palestinian state within one year and an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines by the end of 2017, was as likely to survive a vote in the Security Council as the pro-cannabis Green Leaf party is to pass the Knesset’s electoral threshold.
It was unclear until the last minute whether the draft — which read more like a Palestinian wishlist than a serious proposal to reach an agreement — would garner the requisite nine yes votes. But even if it had, the Palestinians knew that the Americans would, if need be, use their veto.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sought a showdown at the Security Council regardless. Facing pressure from Hamas and other rivals within Palestinian society, he evidently felt he needed to do something to prove to his nation that he knows how to pressure Israel.
The Palestinians threatened repeatedly that if their resolution were to be thrown out, they would apply for membership in the International Criminal Court and accuse Israel of alleged crimes against humanity. Indeed, as soon as Security Council vote ended, Palestinian officials started vowing revenge at the ICC, with senior sources saying they would consider signing the Rome Statute by Wednesday evening.
But judging from the months of hesitation and back-and-forth around submitting the statehood resolution to the Security Council, it is possible that by New Year’s Day of 2015 they will still not have joined the ICC or sued Israel.
The Palestinian position might find sympathy in the court of public opinion and among European diplomats and parliamentarians. But in an actual court of justice, the worst violations of the Israeli army will pale in comparison to the war crimes Hamas and other terror organizations commit as a matter of principle.
Going to the ICC, Abbas knows, could backfire: If the Palestinians sue Israel, Israel will sue back with a vengeance. Going to the Security Council with a totally one-sided resolution that looked doomed to fail, on the other hand, was simpler, and he could afterwards turn to his people and say he tried.
Abbas’s insistence on going to the Security Council with this imbalanced text didn’t advance the Palestinian cause one millimeter. If anything, it helps certain right-wing Israeli lawmakers show off their anti-Palestinian statehood credentials ahead of the primaries. No one suspects that Jewish Home party MKs secretly support the two-state solution. But since the head of the Likud party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, publicly endorsed the idea of Palestinian statehood, some MKs in his party apparently felt the need to distance themselves from his position. Abbas’s UN demarche was the perfect occasion for that.
Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, for instance, usually focuses his concern on Iran and rarely talks about the Palestinian issue. But to remove any doubt ahead of Wednesday’s Likud primaries, he called the Palestinian UN resolution an “act of war,” warning that Israel would have to consider dismantling the PA if it passed. To make sure the message was well internalized, he also released a campaign video, in which a fake Mahmoud Abbas tells viewers they shouldn’t vote for Steinitz “because he opposes a Palestinian state.”
On Wednesday morning, Steinitz released another statement, recalling that during his term as finance minister he fined the Palestinians “hundreds of millions in response to unilateral steps at the UN — and as a result, the PA refrained from such actions for an extended period of time.”
Danny Danon, who is running for the chairmanship of the party in addition to a spot on the Knesset list, went a step further. The world needs to know, he declared Tuesday evening, that recognition of a Palestinian state means that Israel will start applying sovereignty over Judea and Samara, the biblical name for the West Bank.
Of course, nothing of that sort is going to happen any time soon. Israel has no interest in dissolving the PA and it also isn’t about to annex the West Bank. But it’s election time, and if Abbas can use this UN resolution to score political points at home, why shouldn’t Israeli politicians do the same?
By Raphael Ahren