A recent post in the New York Times tells us that the Obama administration hopes to avert the issue of Palestinian statehood that is scheduled to come to the floor of the UN when world leaders gather at the General Assembly beginning later this month.
Obama hopes that a new round of peace negotiations will forestall the highly negative fallout the administration's certain veto of the resolution will generate.
According to the Times' article, efforts to head off the Palestinian drive have continued through the summer, but have become more urgent as the vote looms. These efforts included direct intervention by David M. Hale, the administration's new special envoy, and by Dennis Ross, the president's Middle East advisor on the National Security Council. In an escalation of this initiative, the State Department recently issued a formal diplomatic message to more than 70 countries urging them to oppose any unilateral moves by the Palestinians at the United Nations. As the Times' article noted,
"The message, delivered by American ambassadors to their diplomatic counterparts in those countries, argued that a vote would destabilize the region and undermine peace efforts, though those are, at least for now, moribund."
The dilemma for the Obama administration is that it does not have enough support to block a vote by the General Assembly to elevate the status of the Palestinians from nonvoting observer "entity" to nonvoting observer "state". The change, as the Times notes, would pave the way for the Palestinians to join dozens of United Nations bodies and conventions, and it would strengthen their ability to pursue cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
"Senior officials said the administration wanted to avoid not only a veto but also the more symbolic and potent General Assembly vote that would leave the United States and only a handful of other nations in opposition. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic maneuverings, said they feared that in either case a wave of anger could sweep the Palestinian territories and the wider Arab world at a time when the region is already in tumult. President Obama would be put in the position of threatening to veto recognition of the aspirations of most Palestinians or risk alienating Israel and its political supporters in the United States."
While it appears that the Obama administration is at least aware of the dilemma it now faces, the outcome is hardly in doubt. Obama has courted AIPAC shamelessly and, with it, the substantial cache of American Jewish campaign donations, and he has bowed and scraped before Bibi Netanyahu in a manner that emasculates the supposed power of the United States of America. So while Obama once fashioned himself as the standard-bearer of human rights and democracy around the world including, one would assume, for the Palestinians, he seems to have lost interest in this outcome -- just one of his many reversals.
And so, return now to the quotation above from the Times' article that the General Assembly vote would leave America "and only a handful of other nations" in opposition. It is a certainty that among that group of nations we will find Canada.
Unlike President Obama, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper suffers not the slightest angst on this issue -- he has committed to defending the interests of Israel, "whatever the costs". In so doing, he has set out to become the most fervent defender of Israeli actions in the community of nations. At the Deauville France G8 summit, for example, he blocked any reference in the final communique to a return to the pre-1967 borders as a condition for peace -- this, despite president Obama's stated support for it (a position from which he ultimately backed away under withering condemnation by Israel and AIPAC).
Harper defended the 2006 Israeli campaign in Lebanon that killed almost a thousand Lebanese civilians, an unprovoked military action that resulted in the condemnation of Israel by the world community. In fact, from the outset of the conflict, he defended Israel's "right to exist" and described the military campaign as a "measured" response. He blamed Hezbollah for all the civilian deaths, and he asserted that Hezbollah's objective is to destroy Israel.
When the Gaza flotilla was brutally attacked by the Israeli military, it just so happened that Benjamin Netanyahu was in Canada meeting with Stephen Harper. Our Prime Minister did not waste the opportunity to fully endorse the criminal actions by the Israelis, and even thought it right that Israel should lead any investigation into the affair.
Harper's blinding fealty to Israel has in turn puzzled, infuriated and delighted observers of the Canadian scene, many of whom have sought to explain this apparent departure from what is generally agreed to be our traditional even-handed and consensus-based foreign policy. The widely held view is that Harper's slavish support for Israel is driven by ethnic politics. A former Canadian diplomat is reported to have told a Liberal Party conference that,
"the scramble to lock up the Jewish vote in Canada meant selling out our widely admired and long-established reputation for fairness and justice."
As writer and historian Yves Engler has noted, however, the numbers don't add up. He points out that just over 1% of the Canadian population is identified as Jewish. From the 2006 Canadian census, according to Engler, Jews were the 25th largest group defined by ethnic origin, and only a handful of electoral ridings have a significant concentration of Jews.
As in America, Jews have high levels of political engagement, are well represented in positions of influence and are a relatively prosperous minority group. As is also the case in the US, voting patterns suggest that few Canadian Jews cast their ballots based on Ottawa's policy towards Israel, and there may actually exist an inverse relationship to Jewish support. The reality is that pro-Israel Jewish lobbyists have influence because they operate within a favorable political climate -- as Engler says, "they are pushing against an open door."
But there was a time when conditions were not so favorable, when Canada did not reflexively side with the pro-Israeli Jewish lobby. As Engler notes,