Ex Cathedra in Ramallah

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is not without throwing some strong language around. "Get to the damn table," he intoned before the centrist Saban Center in Washington on December 2. By this he meant both Israelis and Palestinians. The Israelis are quite willing to join the table of negotiations as they continue, unimpeded, to build settlements on land that is supposed to be given back to the Palestinians under UN resolutions. The Palestinians, comprehensibly, refuse to get to the table when their putative lands are being nibbled away by the other side.

In the center of Ramallah there is a huge chair that has been created, symbolizing the chair in the UN that the Palestinian state is supposed to occupy. Alongside there are posters with the number 194, which has a double significance. UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of December 1948 provided for the right of return for displaced Palestinians to come back into what is now Israel. 194 also refers to Palestine as becoming the 194th state to enter the United Nations.

The Palestinians came up one vote short in the projected tally in the United Nations Security Council on the question of the admittance of Palestine as a state. The necessary nine votes for passage would have triggered a veto of the proposal by the United States, which would have been highly embarrassing for Washington and a sort of moral victory for the Palestinians, who seem not to have expected that the proceedings would not wind up in a U.S. veto.

How long will the giant chair remain in Ramallah Square as a symbol of how desire gets morphed into something else in reality? Except that time is something the Arabs have plenty of.