A U.N. Security Council meeting in December.(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The Obama administration offered to support a watered-down statement instead of the anti-settlements resolution that the Palestinian Authority has wished to submit to the U.N. Security Council. The Palestinians’ proposal calls the settlements illegal—and the United States has promised to veto it. To avoid having to make its first Council veto, though, the Obama administration suggested that instead the Council resolve that it “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.” In a further twist, the P.A., having caught wind of this plan last night, rejected it and, along with the so-called Arab Group, said it would move for a vote on the harsher resolution Friday.

Everyone knows the Obama administration has, in public and no doubt even more in private, conveyed to the Israeli government that it opposes further settlement-building and many actual settlements. At the same time, it was always going to veto the truly threatening resolution, and indeed still will. So is this such a big deal?

Actually, kind of. The U.N. has long been perceived by Israel and many Israeli supporters as a particular hotbed of animus toward the Jewish state (the infamous Durban conference didn’t help), and consequently, that permanent U.S. veto has long been viewed as its firewall against the imposition of the international community. So even a slight concession on the U.S.’s part is, as U.N. blogger Colum Lynch put it, a “sharp reversal.” As Rep. Anthony Weiner, Democrat of New York, put it last night, “The correct venue for discussions about settlements and the other aspects of a peace plan is at the negotiating table. Period.” Tim Pawlenty, the presumed Republican presidential candidate, blasted Obama as well.

And here’s the thing (and to remove this totally from the settlement question itself): The Obama administration misplayed this one, badly. Trying to please everybody, they accomplished the precise opposite. The U.S. was never not going to veto the Palestinians’ resolution, which meant the Palestinians could call its bluff.

Now the administration gets the worst of both worlds. Israel and its American supporters will accuse (and have already accused) it of bowing to Israel’s opponents in a way none of several previous administrations did. And even more importantly—and you should care about this even if you don’t care about the settlements, or if you share the Obama administration’s disdain for them—at a crucial time for the region, the administration just demonstrated it cannot throw its weight around at the Security Council: It tried to do something, and it failed. It looks weaker now.

In Sharp Reversal, U.S. Agrees to Rebuke Israel in Security Council [Turtle Bay]
U.S. Offered to Back Israel Rebuke [Ben Smith]