Small Calamities: The Law of Unintended Consequences in the Middle East
Is there a substantive, positive outcome of the UN’s recent vote to upgrade Palestinian status? How will this new recognition change the reality on the ground?
At a glance the new found Palestinian status gives the PA legal access to UN and international conventions, entities and treaties. The Israelis are worried their leadership (past and present) will be hauled in front of the ICC (International Criminal Court) in the Hague. While it is unlikely to result in any meaningful convictions, the PR blitz of such actions would be invaluable.
The other side of that very same coin has not been discussed. The Israelis would be free to drag the Palestinian leadership into the ICC as well. Given the fact many acts of terror have proudly ‘owned’ and claimed by the various Palestinian terror groups, the courts may be in a bind. Add to that the reality most western nations consider many of the Palestinian leaders to head terrorist organizations. By their own admission, other Arab states proudly support these organizations an their military ‘operations’, thus validating their terror status. It is more than likely a truce of sorts will be reached- You don’t go after our guys and we won’t go after yours.
So when all is said and done, do the Palestinian population benefit from their diplomatic upgrade? Unless actual peace talks are initiated soon, this exercise will be a case of ‘Deja vu all over again’.
The Palestinian people just can’t catch a break.
The Arabs, I am told, have a saying: “Everything starts small except calamity.” If you think about this aphorism for a minute, a sort of witty definitional wisdom comes through. The problem is that sometimes calamity starts small, too. Yesterday’s United Nations General assembly vote on making Palestine an observer-status state is a good example, most likely. But so is a now two and a half-year-old innovation in the so-called peace process milieu that came from the other, the Israeli side. I note this because even as the newsworthiness of the UNGA vote fades from the newspapers over the next few weeks, that other innovation is going to return to prime time along with the standard rhetorical pyrotechnics of the January 22 Israeli election.
But first things first—the UNGA vote.
As the Obama administration has said countless times both in private and public, this effort by the PA is unhelpful. It said so more than a year ago, and managed to delay the effort, and it said it more recently, as well. And it’s true: It is unhelpful, and the “peace process” really doesn’t need more disadvantages; if it has an abundance of anything, that’s it. (A particularly brilliant essay on the logical structure of the problem appeared in TAI a few years ago, written by a Duke University law professor not particularly known for comment on this subject. I still recommend it very highly.)
Ah, but so what? It isn’t as though some other route to a revived and successful peace process is in prospect, so the vote could easily be dismissed as a marginal tactical stunt. Besides, everybody knows that United Nations is not a place where problems get solved, but a place where either insoluble or trivial issues go to be talked to death by second-rate diplomats with nothing better to do.
This may turn out to be the case, but it’s not obvious that it will. There are at least three reasons to think that this episode will turn out to be more important and more harmful than that.