The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to upgrade the Palestine Liberation Organization’s status to a non-member observer state.
The vote tally was 138 in favor, nine against (which included “no” votes from the U.S. and Canada), and 41 abstaining. The only EU member to join the United States in rejecting the PLO’s unilateral move was the Czech Republic. The U.N. result revealed the impotency of Western democracies, mainly the U.S., to use their leverage in the Middle East.
My colleague Jonathan Schanzer neatly captured the PLO’s snub of the U.S. ahead of yesterday’s vote:
The Palestinians are not just challenging the Israelis, they’re challenging the United States, having to make tough decisions last year at the Security Council, having to veto that was not — especially right in the middle of the Arab Spring — that was a black eye for the United States, having to scuttle this right now with the Palestinians going around saying that the U.S. is threatening us and they’re going to cut off aid, again a challenge to the United States.
The EU being the EU, there was pro-Palestinian support among many of the major powers. France, Spain, and Italy voted to upgrade the PLO. The growth of France’s Muslim population surely was a factor in French president Francois Hollande’s endorsement of the U.N. resolution to grant the PLO observer status.
Germany, which claims to be Israel’s key ally in the EU, abstained along with the United Kingdom. It is not surprising that the pro-Western Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg, a Catholic from a Central European noble family background, took the high ground and rejected the PLO resolution. While serving as the head of the EU’s rotating presidency, Schwarzenberg termed Israel’s Operation Cast Lead (2008–2009) to stop Hamas rocket fire into southern towns a “defensive measure” and opposed European calls for an investigation into the phony allegations of “war crimes” attributed to Israel’s Defense Forces.
The Czech Republic turned out to be the only gutsy EU member to stand up to an anti-peace move by the PLO to bypass direct negotiations with Israel. After all, the letter and the spirit of the Oslo accords codified negotiations between Israel and the PLO on precisely the core questions of borders, security, and peaceful co-existence that the PLO helped to gut with its stunt at the UN.
The main sticking point is, Israel simply does not have a genuine peace partner. The radical Islamic movement Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. The Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas rules in the West Bank.
President Obama’s cherished multilateral foreign-policy strategy appears to be in shambles. Put simply, the United States could not even mobilize its major European allies — Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, and France — to oppose the PLO’s dramatic undercutting of the Oslo accords.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based Fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.