The threat by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to recognize a Palestinian state if Israel fails to meet a two-year deadline for peace certainly takes the gateau.
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Monsieur Fabius seeks to exploit maneuvering against Israel in the United Nations Security Council. What the geniuses of the Quai D’Orsay bring to the party is the assumption that if the deadline isn’t met it must be Israel’s fault. By promising to award the prize to the Palestinian side, Fabius creates yet another incentive for the Arabs to run out the clock.
It is tempting to lay this brainstorm to the notion that France is a “sh**ty little country,” but that would be no more true of France than the ambassador of France to London once said was true of Israel. The better theory is that this two-year deadline is connected to the fact that 25 months is all that remains of the Obama administration.
If the shiv is to be stuck in Israel’s back, the deed is going to have to be done before a Republican gets into the White House. There’s no guarantee of that, of course. American elections are unpredictable enough, even with a frontrunner. But France doesn’t want to take any chances. That, at least, is my theory.
There is always the possibility that France is simply being caught up, yet again, in the anti-Jewish sentiment sweeping the continent. Sweden took time off from hunting a Russ submarine in its coastal waters to become the first country in Western Europe to recognize Palestinian statehood. Britain, Spain, and Ireland have chimed in, albeit with motions that are non-binding.
However, it is all the more prudent to view this two-year deadline in the context of American politics. Jeffrey Goldberg’s now-famous scoop about how the crisis in American Israeli relations is “officially here” was not just about how an aide to U.S. President Barack Obama called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “chickens**t,” scandalous though such a remark may be. He also reported that the Obama administration “may actually withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations.”
It’s hard to imagine what withdrawing diplomatic cover for Israel could mean if it doesn’t mean America refraining from using its veto in the Security Council after the other permanent members have caved on a unilateral move on Palestine. The deadline in the draft resolution on Palestinian statehood circulated after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech in September was November 2016, the exact month of the U.S. presidential election.
The Arab League's foreign ministers, according to the latest report in Haaretz, agreed on Saturday to formally present a draft resolution to the Security Council that will set a timeframe for statehood. Haaretz quoted diplomatic sources as saying a draft could come within days. It may be that the French will try to justify their maneuvering by saying that the resolution they want is the best deal that can be gained at the United Nations.
The Quai D’Orsay seems to be holding out the hope that France could get America to abstain while the rest of the Security Council moves against Israel. This is why Goldberg’s warning about the administration’s intentions is so newsworthy. Nothing, after all, can happen at the Security Council that America doesn’t want.
So we are entering a season when it will be important to pay attention to what is happening in Congress. In July, Senator Marco Rubio offered the Palestinian and United Nations Anti-Terrorism Act, which declare it to be U.S. policy to deny U.S. assistance to any entity or international organization that collaborates with Hamas. It targets the Relief and Works Agency and the Human Rights Council. In September, Congressman Steve Stockman of Texas introduced his own bill, the Stop Funding Terrorism Act, to block funding to the Palestinian Authority. The same month, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen presented her own Anti-Terrorism Act, targeting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
None of these bills are likely to pass unscathed, if at all. Stockamn will be out of the new Congress, after losing an effort to move up to the Senate. These bills are but a sampling of the latest ferment in Congress over money for the United Nations and related institutions. Nothing could turn this ferment into action faster than a move in the Security Council against Israel. If the French don’t like it, tant pis.
Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was a foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of The Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.