The Palestinian bid for full membership in the United Nations may be drowning in a procedural swamp. As The National reports today, the US appears to have wielded the tools of big-power diplomacy so effectively that the issue will not even come to a Security Council vote, sparing the US the embarrassing need to use its veto to protect its ally Israel.
Despite this setback, the United Nations gambit by Mahmoud Abbas in September has already proved its worth, resulting in a significant success for the Palestinian Authority, and the whole Palestinian cause, in the court of global public opinion.
More gains are in view. Palestinian membership in Unesco, the UN's science and education body, which came earlier this month, offers a template for joining as many as 16 other UN organisations. If the US then reduced funding for those units, as it did for Unesco, American hostility would serve only to increase American isolation, while the missing US funds might well be found in other capitals.
To be sure, formal acceptance of the PA as a full UN member has been a long shot ever since the US vowed to veto the idea at the Security Council. The road to a UN General Assembly vote, now obscured by thickets of procedure, may still prove navigable, although the precedents are not conclusive. At most, however, a General Assembly vote would bring the PA only "observer state" status, such as the Vatican has. But that too would be progress.
How much longer will US voters agree to Washington's unquestioning devotion to Israel's interests? Deft lobbyists for Israel keep many US lawmakers in line, but Barack Obama, the US president, is less than enthusiastic: in an overheard conversation last week French president Nicolas Sarkozy called Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu "a liar" to which President Obama replied: "You are sick of him, but I have to work with him every day." The dam of resistance to statehood cannot endure forever.
The Palestinians, however, would risk damaging their own cause if this procedural setback at the UN were to renew or deepen the divisions between Fatah and Hamas, and especially if factions resume their violent ways.
The peaceful path of diplomacy and world public opinion offers far more hope than any other possible way forward for the long-suffering people of Palestine.