Herb Keinon
The Jerusalem Post (Analysis)
September 23, 2011 - 12:00am

Distinct similarities are beginning to emerge between the “freedom flotilla” that was supposed to set sail for Gaza from Europe this summer with “1,500 activists in 15 ships,” and the Palestinian’s unilateral statehood bid that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to launch Friday at the UN.

Both were accompanied by sound and fury and expectations of what these “dramatic, historic” steps would signify.

Both were accompanied by nightmare predictions, here and abroad, of the damage that would be caused to Israel, and of how it would further isolate our already badly isolated country.

Both were held up as evidence of this country’s impotence and the failure of its diplomacy. Both were used to strike fear into the hearts of the populace that things have rarely been worse.

In the end, the vaunted flotilla ended with a whimper as the Greeks prevented it from setting sail, and only one vessel with a motley handful of radical leftists and journalists took to the seas, easily intercepted by the navy.

And while the Palestinian UN gambit is still a work in progress, there, too, the buildup is shaping up as being much greater than the climax.

US President Barack Obama’s speech at the UN on Wednesday took much of the sting out of the Palestinian gambit. If the bid was an attempt to isolate Israel as much as it was an effort to create a virtual Palestinian state, then Obama’s words severely immobilized that effort.

A country with the degree of rhetorical cover support given by the US president at the United Nations in New York, and not at an AIPAC policy conference in Washington, is not an isolated country – despite what some media outlets may be reporting.

The Palestinian reflexive reaction, as well as that of many of their supporters around the world, was that these words came out of Obama’s mouth only because of his need for the Jewish vote in the 2012 election, and because of the nefarious Jewish lobby’s control of US foreign policy.

But make no mistake, the broad brushstrokes of Obama’s carefully crafted speech were most definitely shared beforehand not only with Israel, but also with America’s Arab allies – countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman and Jordan – and with its European partners.

It stretches credulity to think the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf countries were taken by surprise by Obama’s remarks.

And though the rulers of these countries were undoubtedly less than thrilled by the president’s words of empathy and understanding for Israel, it is also very unlikely they were too upset that the president came down clearly against the Palestinian UN bid.

At this point in time, with the Middle East in turmoil, a Palestinian bid at the UN could unleash forces that could only damage Saudi interests and the interests of other Arab states trying to contain the impact of the “Arab Spring.”

With the Middle East in upheaval, and with an eye on what is happening in Syria, Iran and Bahrain, the last thing the Saudis need to worry about right now is violence in the West Bank that could further foment instability throughout the region.

It is also the last thing needed by Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who of late has taken to speaking uncharitably about Israel.

With all his bluster about how if he were an Israeli, he would be extremely worried about the current situation, the Jordanian monarch has much to be concerned about regarding the way the winds are blowing in the Middle East, and the velocity with which a fire lit by the Palestinian UN bid in the West Bank might spread to the East Bank as well.

If the release of the WikiLeaks cables has taught us anything, it is that what Arab leaders say publicly is not exactly what they are saying privately. For instance, the first batch of WikiLeaks cables released last year showed that while Arab rulers were pledging allegiance to the Palestinian cause in public, privately, their major concern was Iran.

And if the Arab leaders were speaking out of both sides of their mouths regarding Iran, there is no reason to think that they may not be doing the same concerning the Palestinian UN bid: Championing the statehood move publicly, while privately telling the Americans that this is not the time.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, at a meeting of Likud ministers on Sunday, said that Israeli-US cooperation over the last four months has been better than at any other time since Obama took office in January 2009. He said the coordination with Washington in the run-up to the UN General Assembly has been excellent, and that the Palestinians were surprised by the US opposition to their maneuver.

But coming as these words did – just a week after a report that former defense secretary Robert Gates said during a meeting with Obama and US National Security Council officials that Netanyahu was an ungrateful ally – many just rolled their eyes at the prime minister’s comments, and chalked them up as more “Bibi spin.”

The same happened with what the prime minister said Sunday to the cabinet, sounding less than panicky about what awaited at the UN.

“The Palestinian efforts to be accepted as a regular member in the UN will fail,” he said with complete certainty, having in his pocket a US pledge to veto the move at the Security Council, if efforts to get seven of the 15 Security Council countries to vote against or abstain did not bear fruit.

Even in the General Assembly, he said, “There may be various activities where our activities and efforts are coordinated with the US and other important countries in Europe, and elsewhere.”

It seems Netanyahu knew well of what he spoke.

As Abbas takes the podium Friday afternoon, much of the winds – primarily thanks to Obama’s strong speech against the move – have been taken out of the Palestinian sails.

While Abbas’s move has definitely not yet run its course, and while there may still be surprises at the UN – let alone violence in the territories – the UN bid is looking increasingly like this summer’s flotilla: More bark than bite; more mild breaker than tsunami.


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