The United Nations General Assembly's lopsided Thursday vote recognizing the Palestinian territories as a "state" was hailed as a huge victory for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Palestinians took to the streets of Ramallah in the West Bank to celebrate. The convincing result — 138 countries in favor, 9 opposed, and 41 abstaining — amounted to a stinging rebuke of Israel and the U.S., which lobbied hard to get Abbas to withdraw his bid for a status upgrade from "observer entity" to "non-member observer state." What should the Obama administration do now that the vote is over? Here are four suggestions:
1. Make the United Nations pay
"The U.S. must send a message to the Palestinians and the U.N. that actions have consequences," say Brett Schaefer and James Phillips at National Review. The Palestinian Authority's new status will allow it to ask for membership in various U.N. agencies, but U.S. law prohibits giving money to organizations that grant membership to the Palestinians. If the Obama administration sends the clear message that it will "maintain and enforce current law," the "threat of losing U.S. funding" could discourage these agencies from rushing to embrace the Palestinians. If the Palestinian Authority tries to use its new status to get access to the International Criminal Court, where some fear it will try to file suits against Israel, Washington "should communicate to the ICC that its decisions on these matters will influence future U.S. cooperation with that organization."
2. Cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority
Another option would be to simply scrap U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority, says Elise Labott at CNN. "Congress isn't mandated to cut U.S. aid, [but] that doesn't mean it won't." Several senators are already proposing cutting assistance to the Palestinians, who get $500 million in U.S. aid annually, by 50 percent. They're also threatening to cut aid to countries just for having voted in favor of the status upgrade. "The last thing we want to do is break a relationship between the Palestinians that is mutually beneficial," says Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "But the day that the Palestinians use their U.N. status to try to marginalize Israel in the International Criminal Court it will be clear to us that we are investing in an unreliable partner."
3. Push for new peace talks
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the U.N. vote "unfortunate and counterproductive," say Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols at Reuters, but that's not the only way to look at it. The U.K. is urging the U.S. to respond to the vote with a positive spin, by seizing the moment to break the impasse and get peace negotiations going again. United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice signaled that the Obama administration might take that approach, calling for the immediate resumption of peace talks, and urging both Israel and the Palestinians to "avoid any further provocative actions in the region, in New York, or elsewhere." In the meantime, Rice said, the Palestinian people will soon find that "little about their lives has changed save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded."
4. Embrace this move instead of rejecting it
"A Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders is exactly what U.S. President Barack Obama has called for," says Daoud Kuttab at Lebanon's Daily Star. Why reject that concept now? The U.N. vote is symbolic, anyway — it doesn't turn the Palestinian territories into a self-governing nation. Israel and its supporters rejoiced in 1947 when the U.N. General Assembly voted to partition the former Palestine into two states — one Jewish, one Arab — living side by side. It's ironic that they "do not see the importance of fulfilling the other half of the partition plan." Everyone should embrace this move. "A vote for recognition of Palestinian statehood is, to put it bluntly, a vote for peace."