Friday, November 30, 2012

Maybe Try Zigging When They Expect You To Zag?

Yesterday, the UN General Assembly voted 138-9-41 to grant Palestine status as a non-member observer state. Israel and the United States were among the nine "no" votes, arguing that it was a symbolic distraction from the necessity of bilateral negotiations.

On the merits of this vote, I'm indifferent. I don't think UN votes accomplish anything useful, and it is already pretty well-known that the UN will happily pass any resolution that comes before it that is framed as pro-Palestine and/or anti-Israel. This resolution could have stated that Israel killed Roger Rabbit and the vote tally wouldn't have meaningfully differed. As for the ICC, I do think this is probably a red herring. The prosecutor would be exceptionally unlikely to take these cases, and if it did it may well start with prosecuting Hamas terrorism. I'd add that if the prosecutor (quite plausibly) declines to open a case on the grounds of complementarity (that Israeli courts can and do investigate these sorts of allegations effectively), that would actually be a pretty rare endorsement of Israel from an international legal body.

But nonetheless, I don't really fault Palestine for seeking even symbolic victories that antagonize their Israeli adversary. I don't like it either, but that's what happens when you're in an antagonistic relationship -- you seize opportunities to humiliate and piss off your opponent. Neither side is really innocent of this sort of behavior, and here at least I can respect why the symbolism is genuinely meaningful. And hey, if it allows Abbas to return to negotiations on the claim that he's now in a position of strength, so much the better.

My real question is why Israel didn't just go ahead and support the bid on purely tactical grounds. Look, Israel knew this resolution was going to pass. There was no doubt about that, which is why Israel began dialing back its threats of diplomatic retaliation and instead began mumbling about how this was all symbolic and didn't mean anything. Which -- maybe! But -- aside from the fact that if Israel had endorsed the bid I'd have given greater than 50/50 odds that Palestine would have pulled it -- if passage is inevitable and the substantive effect is negligible, why not vote in favor and gain some free credibility?

The answer, as usual, is probably nothing more than that the current Israeli government is comprised of idiots. Oh well.

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