Yesterday, Palestine received overwhelming support from the UN General Assembly in their bid for nonmember status, a key turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian narrative. With 138 votes in favor of Palestine, and only 9 against. There was much jubilation, with some rather lonely dissenters. It is important to note as well that 41 states abstained, most notably Germany and the U.K. Of the 9 states that voted against the measure, only 3 of them were states of great geopolitical reach – Canada, Israel, and the United States.
Stewart M. Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations notes that the biggest surprise of the events yesterday was the majority support from Europe for the Palestinian bid:
The most striking shift is that the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, was able to peel away support from states of an internally divided Europe, beginning with France earlier this week. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’s announcement that Paris—to Washington’s consternation—would vote for the UN resolution opened the floodgates. Spain, Italy, Norway, Greece, Belgium, and Denmark, among others, since adopted the same stance…(http://blogs.cfr.org/patrick/2012/11/29/israel-loses-european-support-on-palestinian-statehood/)
The New York Times was quick to point out though that what happened at the UN does not necessarily lead to broader change in the Middle East just yet. What it does do is isolate further the Netanyahu administration, and puts the U.S. support of Israel on a unilateral crutch, something that the Obama administration has (at least in word) tried to move away from (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/30/world/middleeast/palestinians-and-israel-seek-next-step-after-vote.html?ref=world). The biggest fear of Israel is that the Palestinians will attempt to join the International Criminal Court, in order to pursue legal action against the settlement practices of Israel.
Let’s move back to the implications for U.S. foreign policy for a bit. Overall, the United States support of Israel at the UN was not surprising, but it is troubling. How is the United States to be an honest broker in the two state solution if they remain entrenched firmly within the Israeli worldview on the solution? Granted, just because the broader global public stance on the issue swung in the direction of Palestine yesterday, does not mean that we have to automatically support this paradigm as well. It is a bit unrealistic to broker a peace deal that includes Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. If Mahmoud Abbas sees that as a reality in the near future, he is living in a pipe-dream. To make such a broad sacrifice as that would embolden even the most moderate Israeli.
Long story short, yesterday was a pivotal moment, but it will only be lost in the greater struggle towards a two-state solution if both sides are unwilling to reach moderate agreements.