During a vexatious meeting with U.S. officials in 2009, during which he was notified that the United States could not secure a freeze on Israeli settlement building, Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian negotiator, became exasperated by the seemingly unending U.S.-led "peace process." "I've been doing this for 16 years," he informed the newly appointed Obama administration officials. "This is the last shot," he warned.

In the ensuring five years, however, the Palestinian negotiating team has jettisoned this ultimatum and tried repeatedly to salvage a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue from the wreckage of an unprecedented expansion of Israeli settlements in the very occupied Palestinian territory ostensibly set aside for an independent state. It was the rapacious nature of this Israeli settlement expansion that caused Secretary of State John Kerry to caution that "the window for a two-state solution is shutting." Nearly two years ago he testified to Congress that "we have some period of time — a year to year-and-a-half to two years, or it's over."

But Israel's ongoing colonization of Palestinian land has not been the only factor in torpedoing the prospects for a negotiated two-state resolution since Erekat issued his threat. Palestinians have also endured two failed rounds of U.S.-led negotiations that offered them nothing more than a truncated statelet controlled by Israel from without. The United States has also doggedly blocked Palestinian strategies to internationalize the issue by vetoing a Security Council resolution condemning the expansion of Israeli settlements and scuttling Palestine's bid to join the United Nations as a full member. And, as if Palestinians needed a reminder, Israel proved conclusively who was in control by unleashing a punishing barrage against the Gaza Strip this summer, killing more than 2,200 Palestinians.


Despite it all, last week the Palestinians issued what might be their last-ditch effort to rekindle the nearly extinguished hope of the two-state option, tabling a resolution at the U.N. calling for immediate negotiations to culminate in the establishment of a Palestinian state within one year and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from that territory within three years.

In an attempt to gain U.S. support, the Palestinians bent over backwards to squarely situate this resolution within the parameters laid out by Kerry in the most recent round of failed talks that collapsed this spring. The resolution, for example, pointedly does not demand Israel's withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967 as stipulated by U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, but merely calls for the borders of the state of Palestine to be "based on" these lines with "land swaps," enabling Israel's annexation of its major settlement blocs.

Perhaps most importantly, the resolution is essentially toothless. It includes no enforcement mechanism and envisions no sanctions against Israel should it continue its colonization of Palestinian land, fail to negotiate for a sovereign Palestinian state and withdraw from Palestinian territory. Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who vacillated between considering the resolution an "act of aggression" and a "gimmick," perfectly captured the essential meaninglessness of the initiative by bluntly stating that "without Israel's agreement nothing will change."

Prior to this resolution being tabled, the United States had been coy about whether it would exercise its veto in the Security Council. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki differentiated between unilateral measures that would "prejudge the outcome of the negotiations" and non-unilateral steps that would set "terms of reference" for resolving the issue. The former, she implied, would be vetoed; the latter, not necessarily so. But when the resolution was introduced, the United States dropped the pretense of indecision. The State Department immediately announced that it could not support the resolution because it set a timetable for the withdrawal of the Israeli military from Palestinian territories now occupied for nearly half a century.

President Obama entered the White House pledging to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that "the establishment of a Palestinian state is a must for me personally. In an expeditious manner, we will get to the two-state solution." But with the United States continuing to shield Israel at the U.N. from even the mildest resolution to establish a Palestinian state and with direct talks between the parties virtually inconceivable, this commitment is likely to go unfulfilled.

Instead of realizing his bold promises at the outset of his administration, President Obama will likely spend his remaining two years in office hoping against hope that this simmering cauldron does not boil over, gladly punting the ball to his successor to deal with the ramifications of the demise of the two-state resolution.

Ruebner is the author of Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace and policy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.