Missing the resolution, not missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity


Just as this tedious battle is gearing up over the U.N. resolution slamming Israel on settlements, I’m going on vacation.

Yay! I mean, oh, well.

"Tedious," you say? How is this definitive battle "tedious?" How could I say such a thing? The heated backs and forths, the pile-on of "unprecedenteds" and "historicals" and "betrayals" — what I am saying, for the love of all that is good?

This isn’t tedious — it’s fun!

Okay, first, in the history of this conflict, one I’ve been covering since before I was born (or it seems that way), it is true that the Palestinians have more often than not been on the wrong end of the "never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity" epigram. (I could make a list, but instead I offer my friends on the left a simple reality: Which side has a state? Thank you.)

But there have been a few occasions when the Israelis have flubbed it, and this is one of them.

Let’s start with the mother of all Israeli missed opportunities: Algiers 1988.

One could argue that muted references to Israel in the Palestine National Council’s declaration of independence, Yasser Arafat’s use of a French word so obscure it doesn’t even appear as a pun in the entire Asterix ouevre, the references to U.N. resolutions recognizing Israel instead of outright recognition — that all of this was a bridge too coy.

But for years, Israel and its defenders had been filling the vacuum created by Palestinian terrorism and rejectionism with a simple sentence: "There is no one to talk to."

And then, in 1988, there was, and the world watched.

And Israel did virtually nothing for five years.

In that meantime — in that vacuum created by Israel, not the Palestinians — Arafat’s corrupt oligarchy coopted whatever was positive about the first Intifada, and Hamas became a force to be reckoned with.

The problem with Israel’s posture was not that Arafat and the PNC and the PLO were generous in Algiers — it was that when the Palestinians ventured forward, when they negated the "no one to talk to" reality, Israel did nothing. (The same problem would characterize the Palestinian response to Israeli offers at Camp David 12 years later.)

Those five years, from 1988-1993, were a vacuum and Israel allowed others to fulfill it.

Now, this U.N. resolution is small potatoes, comparitively.

But, I must say, since Algiers, the Palestinians have raised a generation of very sharp diplomats.

The resolution goes further than the "caduc" playfullness of 1988. Then, it was, "You want us to recognize Israel? Well, we’ll recognize resolutions recognizing Israel — how’s that?" Like I said, coy.

Now — and look at the operative elements of the resolution — the Palestinians are smarter. They’re saying:

You want a return to direct talks? It’s in. It’s the major component.

You don’t want mentions of refugees? No mention of refugees.

You don’t want final status reference to borders, Jerusalem? We’ll take out final status. (In the PDF of the draft resolution someone emailed me, an allusion to final status is actually inked out — so they were considering it, and rejected it.)

What’s in is what every nation on earth except Israel considers critical — and what Israel committed to in prior agreements, including the road map: A settlement freeze.

Now, there’s a lot of nonsense out there about how withholding a veto of a resolution that Israel doesn’t care for is unprecedented. (It’s commonplace, and happened as recently as 2009, when the Bush administration allowed the resolution calling for an end to the Gaza War.)

A slightly more sophisticated version of that nonsense emerged today from the Republican Jewish Coalition, in its statement saying that "the United States has historically opposed U.N. Security Council actions that target Israel specifically."

Not true either. The last Bush administration did not veto a May 19 2004 resolution calling on Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes, and there were numerous veto-withholds during the Clinton, first Bush and Reagan administrations regarding the deportation of Palestinians and Israeli military actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and in Lebanon. All of these specifically targeted Israel.

The smartest take supporting a veto is one I saw in a pro-Israel off the record circular this morning: That there has not been a veto-withold of a resolution specifically targeting Israel on settlements, specifically, since three during the Carter administration. That, as far as I can make out, is true.

What’s also true is that the Palestinian-drafted resolution is not "balanced" — not, of course, in the sense that the P.A. is building settlements in the Sharon, but in that arch dipliomatic tradition of having to slam one side if you’re going to slam the other, however apples and oranges it gets. (The abortive U.S. attempt to head of the resolution with a declarative presidents’ statement included such a reference to rocket fire from Gaza.)

But that narrow focus reduces what is happening here to whether Susan Rice raises her hand tomorrow afternoon, and how nasty the United Nations is, and how its goddamn diplomats are free to smoke inside goddamn Turtle Bay and goddamnit if you can’t even light up in goddamn Midtown.

What’s ignored is a Palestinian-drafted resolution that, beyond freezing settlements:

–Calls for a return to the table, now.

–Omits preconditions like refugees, a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, 1967 borders, or even 1:1 exchanges based on 1967 borders.

Those are the expressed demands of the current Israel government and its predecessors.

And yet we’re back to caduc-like quibbles.

There may be good reasons not to seize this day.

I have yet to hear them articulated beyond specious references to diplomatic traditions that just ain’t.

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