“There is a reason the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process, or the absence of one, not just in the Arab world, in Latin America, in Asia and in Europe.”
- President Barack Obama, speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), May 22, 2011
In lobbying to block the Obama administration from supporting UN recognition of a Palestinian state, AIPAC and the so-called Israel Lobby may have sidelined the US as the world moves forward anyway. It is too early to predict, but the Arab bloc, Turkey, most Latin American governments and several major European states are poised to endorse the Palestinian bid.
Early on, President Obama appointed progressive diplomats, including Chas Freeman and George Mitchell in an effort to advance his stated goal of achieving UN recognition of a Palestinian state by this month. He initially opposed the expansion of Israeli settlements and quarreled with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. But Obama swiftly learned he had little domestic support, especially in Congress. Freeman and Mitchell are gone and Netanyahu remains popular.
But since the US is no longer the “sole superpower”, the AIPAC and Israeli lobbying effort may be in vain. The political and diplomatic initiative is slipping away from the Israel-friendly US to other powers. If the US cuts off funding for the Palestinian Authority, as Congress is threatening to do, other sources of international funding may be found, leaving the US with a diminished capability for economic and diplomatic pressure.
Given the context of the Arab Spring, the damage to American standing will only increase. Already, for example, the Saudis are making veiled threats to reconsider help for the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. CIA director David Petraeus previously has warned that American support for an intransigent Israeli government poses security threats for US troops.
In going too far, the AIPAC-Israeli pressure campaign may very well backfire. And then?
J Street, the progressive voice of the mainstream Jewish community, has chosen to close ranks with the Israel Lobby and the Obama administration on the UN issue. The debate is far from over, however, including the proposed cutoff of US funding.
Follow the exchange of views with J Street at The Nation:
"J Street Opposes Palestine's UN Bid; US Increasingly Isolated," by Tom Hayden
"J Street Supports Palestinian Statehood," by Jeremy Ben-Ami
"A Response to J Street: Consider the Irish Model," by Tom Hayden