Posted by on January 20, 2011 in Blog

For years now, the Palestinians and U.S. have been politically outmaneuvered by Israel which, like in every previous phase of negotiations, managed to collapse the latest round of U.S.-led direct talks through continued settlement expansion. By quagmiring the talks in the initial phase of whether or not to freeze settlements, Israel has managed to avoid dealing seriously with the final status issues required for the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.

Of course, Palestinian civil society has other means of resisting Israel’s encroachment on its territory; through non-violent actions in collaboration with Israeli peace activists on the ground, the boycott of settlement products...etc. But on the diplomatic front, the Palestinians seemed stuck in the cycle of endless peace talks under US leadership without any meaningful pressure being applied to curb Israel’s takeover of Palestinian lands through settlement building. Stuck, that is, until recently.

Following the most recent failure of U.S.-led negotiations, the Palestinians have pursued the alternate strategy of seeking legitimacy and recognition from the international community. Over the past few weeks, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Guyana recognized Palestine as a state, with many of them specifying such recognition on the pre-1967 borders. In an even more major development, Russian President Medvedev, during a visit to the region, reaffirmed his country’s 1988 recognition of Palestine, stating that the goal is the “establishment of a modern, unified and sovereign state with East Jerusalem as its capital.” This is far more significant this time around than in the days of the Soviet Union because Russia today is a member of the Quartet, the entity (made up of the U.S., UN, EU and Russia) which oversees Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. It seems that other players are ready to capitalize on the failure of the peace process to move forward.

Two days ago, the PLO Mission in Washington raised the Palestinian flag for the first time ever.  The move followed the Obama administrations' reclassification of the PLO Mission's status in August and, as expected, it was praised by supporters of peace and condemned by the very hardliners who opposed the Obama administrations’ initial decision. The flag raising is indeed a positive development. But the bigger test in whether the Obama Administration is willing to take the necessary steps to maintain the U.S.’ leadership role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies in how it votes in the anticipated UN Security Council vote on Israeli settlements: will the administration stick to the pattern of vetoing resolutions that are critical of Israel? Or will it boost its credibility as a serious mediator by allowing, perhaps even voting for, a resolution condemning Israel’s unlawful settlement expansion? The answer to that question may provide a strong signal for the Palestinians on whether to still look for US leadership in advancing a resolution to the conflict, or whether to carry on looking elsewhere.

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