The UN vote to recognise Palestine as a “non-member state” looks like a second defeat in just over a week for Israel, after many observers judged that Hamas won the recent war in Gaza on points.
When it became clear Israel’s attempt to turn the vote into a crisis had failed, it spun 180 degrees and began dismissing it as largely symbolic.
That may be true – the vote changes nothing on the ground and may change little in the General Assembly hall in New York. But the symbolism isn’t insignificant. The scale of the defeat – 138 votes to 9, with 41 abstentions – underscores the isolation of Israel and the US in the international community, and leaves them looking like lone opponents (along with such powers as Micronesia and Panama) of Palestinian rights.
The Palestinian leadership’s move away from Washington and towards New York, where the UN is based, reflects its frustration with the US’s lopsided mediation of the conflict. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas believes the Obama administration has helped strip him of any real power by demanding he negotiate with Israel even as settlement growth swallows up Palestinian land and preempts the results of talks.
Abbas’s diminished status was emphasised by the reappearance on the political scene, for a few hours this week, of his predecessor as Palestinian president. Yasser Arafat, whose body was exhumed by scientists investigating his death, once stood in the UN General Assembly hall and said: “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”