The UN General Assembly has long been the yearly festival of Israel bashing -- the more, the better; and so Israelis have become cynical about this event, so much so that PM Netanyahu, echoing a statement made by the late Abba Eban, said that any resolution presented by the Arab-Muslim bloc will be accepted, even one that describes Planet Earth as being flat.
PM Netanyahu enjoyed some good days after his speech to the American Congress, basking in the glowing reviews of his performance, appearing in both liberal and conservative American media. The days of glory were painfully short though.
A few days ago, Netanyahu told the Defense and Foreign Affairs committee of the Knesset that there is no way that Israel could prevent an overwhelming General Assembly resolution recognizing an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. No big surprise for the Israeli public, but a statement that deserves attention as it speaks volumes about some significant aspects of the handling of Israel's foreign policy.
To start with, until few days ago, Israeli policy makers competed with each other in describing the upcoming resolution as a "diplomatic Tsunami", "apocalypse now", and what not. Typical Israeli sense of the "entire world is against us", was at ample display, and in addition the internal in-fighting not just between government and opposition, but also within the government played a role in escalating and exaggerating the significance of the upcoming resolution.
Now, a dose of realism seems to have taken over the direction of Israel's reaction. This is so for three main reasons: first, any inclusion of a new member state in the UN requires a Security Council decision. Judging by President Obama's repeated statements, the US will object, and that means end of story. The General Assembly will have its automatic anti-Israel majority for a symbolic resolution, but Palestine will not be a member; second, at least 4 out of the 8 G-8 Forum states, the US, Canada, Germany and Italy are likely to vote no in the General Assembly, thus depriving this resolution from most of its actual significance; third, no UN decision regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict has ever been historic in reality, rather than in rhetoric, and that includes the Partition Resolution from 29 November 1947, that was blatantly violated by the Arab invasion to the newly-established state of Israel.
With that in mind, Netanyahu and his government have toned down their level of hysteria and are bracing themselves to what may happen in September at the UN, before and after. It is imperative for the Israelis not to throw in their lot completely with the US and their other allies. These allies do not share the Likud platform with Netanyahu and they want him to move. He can still do it -- he has to do it -- and he should remember that Abbas is still leaving a narrow opening for negotiations which, if opening soon, will lead the PA to postpone the suggested UN resolution.
The clock is ticking for Netanyahu, but also for Abbas. The Palestinians do not hold all the cards, and their leadership should be fully aware of the dangers of arousing emotions among the Palestinian population. The Palestinian street is buzzing with unrealistic expectations, which will not be fulfilled, surely not in the near future, and not as a result of the UN resolution.
The hangover can be very problematic, as violence can erupt and get out of control. This is not a pleasant prospect for the Israelis, but definitely also not one cherished by the PA. No one can predict how uncontrolled protest can deteriorate into all-out confrontation, which will jeopardize the two fastest growing economies of the Middle East: those of Israel and the PA.
Alongside the immediate protagonists, the US has also a role to play, and it is to go beyond the speeches to the stage of actual diplomacy, flexing the muscles it still retains and use them as a leverage on the Palestinians, not just the Israelis, in order to bring them to the table.
The specter of the impending September UN session can still be an incentive for a brave step by both Abbas and Netanyahu. In the absence of which, dark days may be ahead. They can still be averted.