In the face of this, Mahmoud Abbas, the weak and unpopular leader of the West Bank Palestinians, had nothing to lose by going to the UN for its semi-meaningful statehood declaration. (The title “observer status” speaks to the largely symbolic nature of the recognition, but the prospect of Palestine joining the International Criminal Court has very real implications. Chief among them: Palestinian membership could subject Israel to war crimes investigations, and Israeli officials to arrest and prosecution abroad.)
That the US didn’t support Mr. Abbas in his UN effort actually strengthens him at home. Palestinians have become disillusioned since the soaring rhetoric of Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech gave way to the reality of America’s lopsided support for Israel, and, in the face of intransigence from the Israeli prime minister, its abandonment of Palestinian moves toward self-determination.
The latest case in point: After the Palestinian victory, UN ambassador Susan Rice declared cynically that “[t]oday’s grand pronouncements will soon fade.” And Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an understatement, added, “America has Israel’s back.” The day after the UN vote, Israel essentially made a mockery of Clinton’s words, announcing it was unveiling plans to build on “E1,” the last piece of land that connects East Jerusalem to the West Bank. Jewish housing there would be the last nail in the coffin for the two-state solution. American officials seem either clueless or complicit about Israel’s intentions.