Palestine wins vote: U.N. decision is a setback for the United States

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The vote Thursday in the United Nations General Assembly upgrading Palestine to nonmember observer state status was significant for a number of parties in the region and in the world.

The vote was 138 for, nine against, including Israel and the United States, and 41 abstaining. The vote was a considerable setback for the United States. Its position opposing the new status for Palestine was supported by only Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama in addition to Israel, an indication of to what degree U.S. influence in the U.N. has sunk.

The primary U.S. argument against raising Palestine's status, that to do so would be to reduce the possibility of negotiating a resolution of the 64-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state agreement, with the two states living side by side recognized and respected, became ridiculous in light of the fact that there are currently no Middle East peace negotiations under way.

The most recent effort occurred when President Barack Obama launched direct Israeli-Palestinian talks at the White House in September 2009, only to see them broken off soon afterward when Israel refused to stop building up settlements in the West Bank, likely territory in an eventual Palestinian state, and the Palestinians refused to proceed with talks unless Israel took that step.

Israel was a loser in Thursday's vote, first, since it proved itself unable to use America's influence in the U.N. to win the day for its position on the Palestinian vote. Second, it now faces a Palestine with its international position enhanced, particularly coming on top of the Gaza Strip's recently demonstrated ability to hold on in the face of a substantial Israeli bombardment, provoked by the rocket attacks Palestinians in Gaza launched against Israel.

A serious problem remains, however, in the sense that the diplomatic victory Thursday accrued principally to Fatah, the Palestinian party in authority in the West Bank, still estranged from Hamas, which rules in Gaza, underlining the division among the Palestinians. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of Fatah, led the successful U.N. effort, but he is considered not to have achieved much in that position, and his term as president expired nearly four years ago.

The Palestinians need to move from their ongoing organizational and personal rivalries to unity if they are to negotiate meaningfully with the Israelis. The Israelis are facing elections Jan. 22 which may put new leadership in control there for possible negotiations with the Palestinians.

The bottom line remains that there will be no peace in this key piece of the Middle East, particularly with political or more violent unrest arising from the Arab Spring persisting in neighboring Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, until a serious negotiating process resumes, under U.S. or other leadership. Thursday's enhancement of Palestine's status at the U.N., in spite of America's wishes, raises the pressure for such talks.

Whether the United States is in a position to play a useful role at this point is seriously in question, given the defeat it just suffered in the overwhelming 138-9-41 vote.

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