Barbara Tuchman’s classic, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, identifies three stages in the descent to self-destruction by an elite: having reached a permanent impasse; being advised that there is a viable alternative; rejecting the alternative and marching to folly. Israel, with the US as enabler, moved closer to folly, opposing UN recognition of the Palestinians as a “nonmember observer state.” The measure, passed on a 138-9-41 vote, approves statehood status and renders Israel officially as an occupying power.
The vote came one week after an eight-day battle of Gaza in which the Israelis destroyed buildings and other facilities belonging to the newly confirmed state. It opens a political and diplomatic path for the Palestinians to further advance their cause through the complicated institutional matrix of the UN.
The opening of the new conflict resolution process marks an alternative to both armed struggle and the failed effort to broker a two-state solution with the Israelis.
The weight of Egypt, Turkey and Qatar on the side of the Palestinians was a new factor in the dynamic. Despite frenzied lobbying, 17 European states broke ranks with the Israelis and Americans, including France, Spain and Italy. Britain and Germany abstained.
Egypt, pushing hard for coordination between the PLO, Hamas and other Palestinian groups, may have influenced Hamas to signal its support for the resolution approving the 1967 cease-fire lines, which implies a clear recognition of Israel. Hamas issued a statement of its lingering reservations, but supported the UN move as a “natural right” for Palestinians.
The US refused to abandon its support for Israel’s adamant refusal to give up its historic veto power over any diplomatic settlement. Pro-Israel Congressional hawks have threatened to cut off foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority and even the UN if further steps are taken under the authorization.
But the UN decision may allow the US to extract itself from the march to folly and, in the language of politics, “move on.” Even if little changes in the political debate in America, the changing balance of forces in the Middle East alone is necessitating an “agonizing reappraisal” of long-standing Western positions. In the short run, the UN decision suggests the difficulty of obtaining international support for any Israeli attack on Iran.