Difficult Choice

September is coming, and with it the moment of truth when the resolution on Palestine statehood comes to a vote in the UN Security Council. No one expects the US to support the resolution; the question is whether we veto it or abstain. If we veto, the resolution will go to the General Assembly in a watered down version, where it will be approved overwhelmingly, getting far more than the required two thirds majority. If we abstain, the SC will pass the resolution directly.

Israel will demand that we veto, for the consequences of SC approval will be more serious for it than just an approval by the GA. For us to abstain would signal a major departure from our historic role of supporting Israel. Many of Israel’s well heeled and organized supporters would charge Obama with “throwing Israel under the bus” and would declare an all-out war against him, showing him no quarter in the run up to next year’s election. Abstaining would instantly transform the whole question of whether our support for Israel should be essentially unconditional into a major election issue, with Israel’s diehard supporters keeping it up front in the public eye for the entire pre-election period.

However, the public will have other concerns that the save Israel campaign will have to compete with. Chief among these is the sluggish economy and the prospect that high levels of unemployment will fuel voter discontent right up to the election. To the extent that voter perceptions continue gloomy the Democrats will suffer. But if there is perceptible improvement in the months before the election, Obama’s prospects for re-election, and the Democrats prospects more generally, will improve.

Gasoline prices affect the average voter and serve as one of the more important indicators of whether the situation is improving. Wholesale oil prices have a pervasive effect on economic activity more generally. It is fair to say, therefore, that what happens to the price of oil during the coming months will have an appreciable effect on Obama’s prospects, and those of his party. And the future price of oil on the world market is something that neither the UN, nor the US, nor Israel can control. Saudi Arabia as the supplier of last resort is the power that calls the shots. And the Saudis have been making it clear lately that they want Washington to take them and their concerns more seriously. Among those concerns, they rate the Palestine issue very close to the top.

Nobody is threatening anyone here, heaven forbid!, but the reality is that Obama has to weigh the predictable fury of AIPAC and its “Israeli First” minions in Congress and the media against the probable effect of Saudi pleasure or displeasure on future oil prices. The conservative course for him is to bet on the known, and do the veto. One problem with that is that the Israeli firsters have made it pretty clear by now that they are out to get him anyway, so he will only be blunting their onslaught, not preventing it. And there is an increasing body of opinion in the US that is getting fed up with this business of kowtowing to right-wing Israeli leaders at all times. But the old pols will all be counseling him not to antagonize the Likudnik tiger, play it cool, and so forth.

In terms of the national interest, and looking at our global interests, it should be pretty clear that we should abstain. What price Israel, if the issue pits us against the entire rest of the world? And is it even in Israel’s own best interests for us to back the folly of their present leadership even as it threatens to drag us over the cliff with them?

What will Obama decide? It is likely to be a tough decision. I hope that while he is weighing his options, lots of Americans will weigh in and support the simple, clean, and ultimately self-serving option of abstaining.

CSC  6/13/11





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