Pundits and policymakers alike seem united in seeing a looming precipice as the Palestinians press a UN Security Council vote on statehood, forcing a US veto and rebuffing President Obama's pleas.
Palestinian and Israeli security forces are preparing for demonstrations which could turn violent. And, with passions aroused by the Arab Spring the impending US veto seems destined to cast a wide shadow over US influence in the Muslim world.
But none of this has to occur. Even at this late stage the Palestinians can take a cue from the 1982 UN Security Council playbook. Following the Lebanon War of that year, France and Egypt introduced a UN Security Council resolution that would have laid the foundation for a Palestinian state. That was totally at odds with US policy of pursuing direct negotiations, not UN fiats. Thus, the US threatened to veto the Franco-Egyptian initiative as a departure from the Camp David Accords. It would have been the first time the US vetoed a resolution introduced by an ally of the United States: France.
But just before the US was ready to cast its veto France and Egypt announced that they had decided to withdraw their draft resolution from a vote. Instead France's ambassador said that it was being introduced solely for the purpose of "discussion". This was a novel concept. Resolutions had never been introduced before at the UN Security Council solely for "discussion".
But, clearly, France and Egypt realized at the last moment that it was better to have a discussion and get their point of view across to the world than have a US veto. By allowing their draft resolution to be "discussed" the resolution could wait patiently in the wings to be resurrected at a more propitious time when US policy, or a change in the situation on the ground might result in a different reaction.
The Palestinians would be wise to take note of this Franco-Egyptian maneuver for establishing a new framework for settling their conflict with Israel. By not forcing the vote they can create a win-win situation for all concerned. After all, eventually the view expressed in the Franco-Egyptian initiative gained widespread approval.
Were the Palestinian to act otherwise little can be expected in terms of actual improvements on the ground. But looking at the playbook of yesteryear might in fact prove to be the smartest way to advance their strategic position.
Allan Gerson is Chairman of AG International Law, PLLC, a Washington, D.C. firm specializing in complex issues of international law and politics. He served as Counsel to the US Mission to the UN, 1981-1986, and later as Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The description of the Franco-Egyptian draft initiative is excerpted from his book, The Kirkpatrick Mission: Diplomacy without Apology (1991).