U.S. Stumbles on Palestinian Statehood Vote

The Obama administration is sending mixed signals again: their words point one way; their actions, another.

The White House stated its opposition to the Palestinian Authority (PA) bid for non-member state status in the UN, but declined to mobilize its and Israel’s traditional allies. It also appears the administration pressured senators to reject three amendments to the Defense Authorization bill that would have penalized the PLO, the UN, and countries receiving U.S. foreign assistance that voted against the U.S. position. One rejected amendment would have shut off all PA funding if the Palestinians seek to take Israel to the International Criminal Court.

Thus while voicing support for Israel, the administration actually gave its backing to Mahmoud Abbas in his successful UN bid to change Palestine's status.

Our allies surely understood what the U.S. was doing. The U.S. supports and maintains the Palestinian Authority in crucial ways, particularly with money, but it also provides an American general, strategic intelligence, training, and backing for the security forces that protect Abbas (the IDF protects him from Hamas). While it is hard to imagine him flying in the face of serious American opposition, he didn’t think he had any -- and he was right.

However, the U.S. decision -- coupled with its stumbling through the Egyptian political crisis and the Syrian civil war -- may put Abbas and Palestinian statehood seriously at risk.

Hamas just declared a dramatic (though thoroughly false) victory over Israel. It has broken out of diplomatic isolation though visits from the emir of Qatar and his checkbook, from the foreign minister of Egypt, and from what may be new consideration from the European Union, although an EU spokesman has backtracked somewhat on that. Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan is considering a visit to Gaza as well. Creating upgraded status for “Palestine” while Hamas is rising and Fatah is facing domestic disarray and a cash crunch creates almost irresistible incentives for Hamas to finish the 2007 civil war, to knock off Fatah, and to announce the extension of its rule over all of “Palestine.” In a further, odd boost to those hopes, Abbas just agreed that Hamas could hold a rally in the West Bank, something forbidden since their civil war.

The UNGA resolution appears to apply to both the West Bank and Gaza. While the resolution was "without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the PLO in the UN as the representative of the Palestinian people,” it doesn’t appear to care who rules on the ground. Fatah, Hamas, whatever.