A rally in Ramallah. (Mohamad Torokman / Courtesy Reuters)
The UN General Assembly vote on November 29, which granted Palestine the status of a nonmember observer state, was little more than an act of political theater. But in the pretend world of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, theater can matter. Last week’s floor show offered Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and his Fatah confreres a chance to distract attention from their recent losses. After all, they have had a rough year: no progress toward ending the occupation and developing a political solution with Israel; a persistent budget crisis; street protests that, for first time, targeted him and the other PA leaders; and most recently, Operation Pillar of Defense, an Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip that left Abbas sitting on the sidelines while Hamas, his movement’s rival, chocked up what passes for victory in Palestine. Now, at least, nobody can say that Abbas failed. But what he achieved is unclear.
For one, the UN move did not offer a solution to Abbas’ main predicament; when he awoke this morning, the albatross of two decades of failure still hung heavy around his neck. He has no easy way to rid himself of it. Palestinian statements that this vote will save the peace process are vacuous -- as pointless as the hand-wringing among U.S. and Israeli officials, who wax pessimistic about the vote’s death blow to negotiations. It is impossible to revive what is dead, just as it is impossible to kill it again.
For his part, Abbas has said that he would return to the negotiating table after the vote. If he does, though, the talks are unlikely to get very far. Indeed, given the heightened mistrust between the PA and Israel and their mutual willingness to ignore the United States (the Palestinians at the United Nations, the Israelis by announcing particularly provocative new settlements), this round is even less likely to succeed than the last.