The White House and the State Department are livid -- Congress even more so. They are furious with the Palestinians. And the Palestinians don't care; the Palestinians are elated.
Palestinian leadership scored a big win against Washington and Israel this past week and they are poised to make the most of that win and to maintain the momentum in the coming weeks.
It is unlike Washington to be unified in their frustration with the Palestinians. Normally, you hear of a passing frustration. There is usually a sense that the White House and State Department are willing to accommodate Palestinian shenanigans and diplomatic missteps and counter steps. As a rule, the Palestinians get the benefit of the doubt from both sides of the U.S. political aisle. They are seldom called to task for their mistakes or deliberate jabs against the United States. As a matter of fact, U.S. politicians often even go so far as to justify actions by the Palestinians that are clearly anti-U.S. by describing them as necessary moves.
Washington often justifies Palestinian negativity and recalcitrance by ascribing it to the need of Palestinian leadership to operate in a way that allows them to save face internally and within the greater Arab and Muslim world.
Not now. This time it's different.
Calling off talks with Israel and engaging a full-court press for UN recognition through the 60 plus treaties and UN-affiliated organizations and agencies is a violation of the very deal the United States has been working so hard to broker. And the worst part of it all is that the Palestinians initiated their plan a month before the deadline for peace talks with Israel was to expire.
While Congress is investigating ways to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority, the White House has not yet figured out how to respond. Actually, in the 1980s, with great foresight, Congress passed a law aimed precisely at this type of behavior. The law was set up to punish the Palestinians if they were to seek United Nations membership in United Nations agencies outside the negotiation process with Israel. And if they were to do so, their funding would be cut off.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al Malki has been quoted in a press conference asserting that he does not see any punishment from the United States for Palestinian behavior and he does not think that Congress will invoke the law and cut funding.
He said: "I do not expect any consequences coming from the U.S. Congress regarding this step at all." The statement was made after al Malki received the 2013 European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) progress report for Palestine from European Union Representative John Gatt-Rutter.
Ultimately, the Palestinian foreign minister might be correct. History is on his side. In September of 2012, when the Palestinians won the UN General Assembly voter upgrading their status from an organization to a Non Member Observer State, there was no discernible U.S. response. Congress may have murmured about holding up funding but did nothing more. And then the White House stopped the substantive Palestinian move to declaring statehood by squelching the vote in the Security Council.
At the time, Washington proudly patted itself on the back convinced that they had achieved victory by keeping the vote out of the Security Council and deciding that there was no need to punish the Palestinians in any other way for side stepping their agreement. That decision might very well have served to embolden the Palestinians.
So now, almost two years later, Congress is deciding on whether or not to pull the nearly $1 billion of aid they give to the Palestinians. And as of now, the White House has not stepped in or put brakes on the move.
The Palestinians have justified their actions by explaining that they were given no choice, that they had to act, that this was their only move. In politics, however, there is seldom simply one move. And unilateral moves always result in strong responses.
Palestinian leadership is on the move. Israel has distanced itself from further negotiations. Now we watch and see how the United States responds.