Skip to main content

Palestinian move at U.N. won't solve anything

By Aaron David Miller, Special to CNN
updated 9:03 PM EST, Wed November 28, 2012
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is asking the U.N. General Assembly for nonmember state status.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is asking the U.N. General Assembly for nonmember state status.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas seeking nonmember state status at U.N.
  • Former diplomat Aaron Miller says the move is like a "Seinfeld" episode, a show about nothing
  • He says it won't achieve a breakthrough and also won't likely do much harm
  • Miller: The real story is about what happens on the ground between Israel, Palestinians

Editor's note: Aaron David Miller is a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and served as a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Can America Have Another Great President?" Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Thinking about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' efforts this week to gain observer status as a nonmember state, I'm reminded of one of my favorite "Seinfeld" episodes.

Sitting in the Restaurant -- the venue for so many of the best "Seinfeld" bits -- George and Jerry conspire to produce a new sitcom, a show literally about nothing. Not surprisingly, the idea comes to nothing as well, though the ironic brilliance that the very show they want to produce already exists adds a cool philosophical edge to the comedy.

Sadly, like the "Seinfeld" episode, the Palestinian effort to gain entry into the U.N. General Assembly as an observer state will come to nothing as well, even if -- as is likely -- he succeeds.

Aaron David Miller
Aaron David Miller

And that's the real tragedy. Success will neither provide the gains Palestinians hope to achieve nor the disasters that opponents of the initiative predict. In the end, Abbas and the Palestinians will be no closer to statehood and perhaps even a little further away.

Motives

Frustrated by the world's seeming indifference to the Palestinian issue and weakened by his inability to deliver anything, Abbas is desperate for an end-of- the-year success of some kind.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Blocked by Washington and the U.N. Security Council last year from gaining admission as a state, he's fallen back on the idea of observer status, an initiative that can't be vetoed by the Americans and is likely to succeed in the General Assembly.

Opinion: Why U.S., Israel should welcome Palestinian move at U.N.

Observer status is largely a symbolic issue, but the Palestinian Authority might then have access to other U.N.-affiliated agencies, including the International Criminal Court, assuming that body would be willing to entertain Palestinian claims and charges against Israel.

Indeed, Palestinian desperation is accompanied by a Palestinian assessment that the international arena offers a fertile field to score political points and to pressure and isolate the Israelis. Call it a kind of global station identification for an organization -- Fatah -- that's run out of options.

Future of Israel, Palestinian Authority
Film challenges Gaza conflict
Buttu: Palestinians need reconciliation
Palestinians push for U.N. status
What's next for Palestinian territories?

What matters is what happens on the ground

If the history of this issue shows anything, it demonstrates that what really counts is what happens between Israelis and Palestinians in the region. How sad and ironic that it was Hamas' rockets, not Abbas' diplomacy, that put the Palestinian issue on the map again.

And that's likely to be the story again -- whether through violence or diplomacy. What counts is whether Israelis and Palestinians can offer incentives and disincentives to one another in currency that matters -- prisoners, land, cease-fires, economic assistance, etc. It matters not a whit what goes on in New York at the United Nations.

Abbas might well be the best partner Israel will ever have, but if he can't deliver or if the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't want to deal with him, well Houston, we have a problem. And at the moment, it is Hamas -- not Abbas -- that counts more and the Gaza/Egypt arena, not the U.N., that's more relevant.

Washington's calculations

Why not support the Abbas move? Doesn't the U.S. have a stake in bucking him up and reinforcing the two-state solution?

Obama's calculations in opposing the observer initiative are three.

First, philosophically, ever since we've had Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the American talking points have been pretty consistent. What matters is negotiations, not moves, at the U.N. And even though there are no talks now, the U.S. position is correct; the only thing that can produce two states are two -- maybe three -- parties talking.

Second, there's no doubt that Obama understands that observer status will only deepen the adversarial relationship between Abbas and Netanyahu, give the Israelis another reason not to negotiate and get the president into a fight with Congress should he support the Palestinian bid. Indeed, that's the last thing he needs at a time when he's wrangling with Congress about the fiscal cliff and fighting with the Republicans about Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Finally, if he is going to consider an initiative on the big Israeli-Palestinian issues during his second term, he needs to build up credibility with the Israelis -- as he's done on the cease-fire in Gaza -- so he can be in a better position to push and persuade them later.

News: Palestinians again take status case to U.N.

An initiative about nothing

The observer state initiative won't make the difference that either its advocates or detractors imagine. Congress might further restrict aid to the Palestinians at a time when the Palestinian Authority is in the red. Abbas will look feckless -- and Hamas even stronger -- because in the end, the results in New York will change nothing on the ground for the better in the region. Indeed, Israel might well retaliate by withholding tax revenues it collects for the Palestinian Authority under agreements reached in the mid-1990s.

And sadly, unlike a "Seinfeld" episode, what happens between Israelis and Palestinians actually matters. For the time being, these two peoples will remain suspended between a peace they cannot have and a confrontation neither wants but might well come nonetheless.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Aaron David Miller.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:25 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
updated 3:00 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
updated 8:57 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
updated 4:40 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
updated 8:32 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
updated 2:05 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT