The Palestinian Authority (PA) under Mahmoud Abbas was defeated yesterday in the Security Council, as the resolution aimed at forcing Israel to accept a Palestinian State along the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as its capital, did not get the necessary nine votes, so there was no need for an American veto. On balance, it is a real failure to the PA, as they pushed to an early vote just days before the membership of the Council is about to change in their favor, with the inclusion of Venezuela and Malaysia. Why Abbas did rush the resolution through the Council is now open to conspiracy theories, something which experienced Middle East watchers should not be too surprised about.
It is rumored that Abbas is basically happy with the result, as he REALLY was afraid that an American veto would bring about a big rift with the Obama Administration, considered more tuned to the PA than any other American administration in recent memory. It is also speculated that he succumbed to Jordanian urges (Jordan formally offered the resolution), as the latter wanted to show their support for the Palestinians in face of internal pressures, while knowing that the final outcome would not be favorable.
Be that as it may, Abbas has a dilemma on his hands: what is next? Ordering a new intifada in the aftermath of the failure in the UN is an option, but a very dangerous one, as you know how this kind of thing starts, but not where it can lead to. Another option is to go to the Hague, but this too is not so appealing, as the US, not only Israel, is opposed to the International Court being a substitute for the UN. Today, you can charge Israel in this court, tomorrow the US... The Palestinian leader can opt for a wait and see game, until after the Israeli elections of the 17th of March, which is what was advised to him in the first place, including by the US.
Abbas' decision, whatever it is, is going to be watched very carefully by his political nemesis, PM Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, engaged in a battle for his political life, is already claiming credit for the Palestinian failure, by emphasizing the fact that both presidents of Nigeria and Rwanda, which did not support the PA in the Council, visited Israel recently.
It is arguably the case that these countries' votes, alongside that of other countries, do shutter somewhat the impression of an isolated Israel, but Netanyahu will have to work hard to convince Israeli public opinion that it is HE, rather than American policy led by President Obama and Secretary Kerry, two of his unfavorable American leaders, that spared Israel, at least for a while, an embarrassing diplomatic debacle. Until very recently, Netanyahu's people made no bones of their total mistrust of the American leadership, but in the moment of truth, the recipients of this criticism acted as was expected by Netanyahu. So, where will the president and secretary be now on Netanyahu's list of unwanted world leaders? Of all people, it was Avigdor Lieberman who chastised the PM, arguing that you cannot be so negative towards Obama and Kerry and then expect them to vote your way.
So, this is where PM Netanyahu will face his problem. Reading the statement of Ambassador Powers makes it clear that there are many points of profound disagreement between the US and Israel, for example on the issue of settlements. Netanyahu is under immense pressure from the right wing of the Likud Party and the Jewish Home party of Naftali Bennett to increase construction in the settlements, even before the elections, at least to announce new plans to do so. Will he do it, or will he understand that he got a very temporary reprieve from a not very friendly administration? This is just one example of what can still go very wrong for Netanyahu from now to the March 17th elections and afterwards, if he remains in office (which is a big IF...).
Netanyahu may or may not like it (probably the former is the answer) but what happened yesterday proves that while Israel is cementing good relationships with countries like India, not a marginal world power, there is no substitute to the alliance with the US. This is an alliance between a global superpower and a regional one, not an alliance between equals, and the problem for Netanyahu may still be the difficulty of proving to many Israelis that he can maintain the alliance. The question of US-Israeli relations is not number 1 on the list of concerns of the Israeli electorate, but it is important enough. In 1992, then Likud leader PM Shamir did not understand it, dealing with the Bush 41 Administration, and his subsequent electoral defeat was partly due to that.
So, Netanyahu was presented with a choice of far reaching implications, by the Obama Administration: go along with us, even if you dislike our recipe for a Palestinian solution and thus continue to be sheltered in the UN, something which will scare off some of your supporters, though not necessarily cost you the elections; or go with your right wingers, something which may help you win the elections, but will lose the American security belt in the Security Council. An open question, a potential trap, a test of leadership as well as of political realism for the Israeli leader.