President Obama will press Palestinian leaders to delay their bid for statehood when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.
The White House has been trying to head off a Friday vote on statehood that would pose dangers for President Obama both on the world state and in his reelection efforts at home.
So far the U.S. has been unable to convince Palestinian leaders to delay their request, so Obama will turn up the public pressure on Wednesday.
Obama is scheduled to address the U.N. at 10 a.m. He also has a meeting scheduled Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is expected to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Negotiators were working furiously Wednesday to avert the controversial vote. The U.S. has promised it would veto the request, but would like to avoid this outcome since it would worsen relations with the Muslim world.
The vote would also give ammunition to Republican critics who already are saying the administration should have done more to prevent the fight from reaching the U.N.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Tuesday that the looming crisis amounted to “an unmitigated diplomatic disaster,” while Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, Romney’s chief rival, went even further, accusing Obama of “appeasement.”
Convincing the Palestinians to hold off on the vote would not only allow Obama to avoid a diplomatic kerfuffle, but would one-up his Republican critics to boot.
A U.S. veto would leave America isolated on the issue and undermine the administration’s efforts to reset relationships with an Arab world that has seen several governments collapse this year.
It would play into the narrative, already popular in much of the Middle East, that America’s close alliance with Israel is evidence the U.S. cannot be an honest broker in peace negotiations.
Republican presidential candidates on Tuesday lambasted Obama for, in their view, allowing the United States (and Israel) to be outmaneuvered by the Palestinians. They suggested they would take a tougher stand than Obama, who is frequently criticized as being more sympathetic to the Palestinians than Israel.
Perry suggested that, if he were president, he would cut off or at least restrict U.S. aid to the Palestinians were they to attain statehood.
George Birnbaum, a one-time aide to Netanyahu who now works as a consultant for Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, said the whole affair was a “a lose-lose for everyone.”
An American veto “enables Hamas, Hezbollah and everybody else to ramp up the PR,” Birnbaum told The Hill. He also suggested that the mere fact that the situation had been allowed to reach this point was an indictment of the Obama administration.
“This is not an idea that popped up a week or a month ago,” he said. “This is something the Palestinians have been talking about for a year. If the Obama administration had said to the Palestinians, ‘This is a non-starter,' it would have died on the vine back then.”
But Robert Wexler, the former Democratic congressman from Florida who is now president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, pushed back against that criticism.
The situation, he insisted, “is not the result of any failure on the part of the United States of America. The reality is that neither Prime Minister Netanyahu nor President Abbas trust each other enough to engage in a series of serious negotiations.”
Wexler also took exception to the tone of Perry’s remarks and to the Texas governor’s suggestion that funding to the Palestinians be cut. Wexler argued that such a move would “in effect disintegrate the Palestinian security forces” and therefore be tantamount to “putting Israelis in harm’s way.”
It was unclear Wednesday whether a backroom deal might be formed to convince the Palestinian leaders to hold off on their request.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the contours of a deal to avoid a vote were forming. European officials, with the United States’ support, were working on a plan in which Israel would have to accept its pre-1967 borders with land exchanges as the basis for a two-state solution and the Palestinians would have to recognize Israel’s Jewish character, according to the AP.
Haaretz reported that thousands of Palestinians had joined a celebratory rally in Ramallah on Wednesday ahead of the expected request for statehood.
There may be one silver lining to the cloud that hangs over the U.N. this week, at least from Obama’s perspective. The use of a U.S. veto to defeat a high-profile resolution against Israel could redound to the president’s advantage, reassuring Jewish voters who have grown restive with the president’s approach to the Middle East.
Such a move could be particularly welcome at the moment, with the reverberations still being felt from the Democrats’ loss last week of a congressional district with a sizable Orthodox Jewish community. Republican Bob Turner made Obama’s Middle East policy a central campaign issue and won the Democratic-leaning seat in New York.
This story was first posted on Sept. 20 at 8:38 p.m. and was last updated at 9:03 a.m. on Sept. 21.