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Europe Eases Into Spotlight Ahead of U.N. Vote

Peace process breakdown weakens the U.S.

Marc Tracy
September 13, 2011
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France last month.(Trago/Getty Images)
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France last month.(Trago/Getty Images)

The biggest casualty of the current movement toward an upgrade in status for the Palestinians may turn out to be the United States’ position as the prime regional broker. It’s pretty simple: a unilateral move at the United Nations is a repudiation of the peace process; the peace process is America’s baby; therefore, a unilateral move at the U.N. is a repudiation of American leadership in the region. Laura Rozen reports that the whole pageant is being perceived as a test of U.S. credibility. In hindsight, suggests one analyst, the U.S. should have been leading the whole thing (and not, er, from behind) from the get-go, either by submitting its own resolution that was much more favorable to Israel while upgrading the Palestinians’ status or, conversely, by declaring the entire thing meaningless and arranging for Israel to be the first to vote yes. (Of course, either strategy would likely have depended on a more willing Israeli government.) Colum Lynch notes that a resolution might leave Israel vulnerable to war crimes litigation at the International Criminal Court, and that the way out of this would have been to craft a resolution explicitly exempting Israel from this.

Instead, the U.S. is spending these last preceding days warning nations to “own the consequences” of their votes, in the words of U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, without really spelling out what such consequences—particularly in the mostly consequence-free General Assembly—would be. And meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s former longtime U.S. ambassador Turki al-Faisal published an exceedingly strange Times op-ed yesterday threatening worsened relations should the U.S. veto statehood in the Security Council, even though the issue likely won’t enter that arena.

But the entity most likely to sap the U.S. of its regional sway is neither Israel nor the Palestinians, but Europe. This began at least several months ago, when it became plain that the U.S. would exercise its Security Council veto, and President Obama traveled to Europe, immediately after his famous “1967 borders” speech, to try to get the big and influential countries of Europe to oppose a Palestinian resolution in the General Assembly. A new International Crisis Group report recommends that Europe step in:

The least harmful outcome at this point is a U.N. resolution that is viewed as a victory by the Palestinians but addresses some core Israeli concerns and preserves the option of a two-state settlement. Achieving that result requires some skilful third-party diplomacy. The U.S., which so far has been reluctant to engage on the content of a U.N. text, has taken itself out of the running. That leaves the Europeans, whose backing the Palestinians are desperate to receive and who therefore can leverage their support.

And where is Europe? Who knows! The Times reports that the European Union is divided among its member-states on this issue (as it is on, y’know, every other issue). Generally, Germany is the big ‘no’—that is, it will vote against the Palestinians’ resolution—and Italy is a smaller one, while Britain and France are the big fence-sitters. Much may depend on the exact language of the Palestinians’ resolution, which has yet to be unveiled (which, by the way, means the Palestinians still have time to shoot themselves in the foot, which is my bet).

But the point is it shouldn’t be coming down to a carefully worded resolution that may or may not emerge from a small cadre of Palestinian leaders with a questionable right to speak for all Palestinians. If the U.S. were still the colossus standing astride the world stage, and particularly in the region, it wouldn’t be.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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