Israel's diplomats have fallen asleep at the wheel. Last time around, Israel marked a significant achievement when it thwarted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' U.N. bid for recognition as an observer state. The "moral majority," as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dubbed the world's elite nations, stood behind us then in opposition to Ramallah's initiative.
But on Thursday night, not only did the elite nations lend Abbas their support, several key nations even defected to the enemy camp and voted with the Palestinians.
Certain diplomatic developments are inevitable. They're unfortunate, but forgivable. On the other hand, if the Foreign Ministry could not prevent even friendly nations from taking up positions on other side of the barricade, then that is a professional failure.
Israel's diplomatic and public relations bodies were unable to elicit even a single objection to the Palestinian initiative on the grounds that it constitutes a flagrant violation of the Oslo Accords.
Even the U.S., which made good on its promise to oppose the Palestinian bid for observer state status, did so with less gumption than in the past. Any discerning diplomat could see the weak U.S. response and realize its significance. Even this newspaper, which does not have reporters stationed in every friendly capital, reported that the U.S. was merely going "by the book." There were no bells of celebration ringing in Jerusalem.
If some Israeli politicians were in fact, celebrating quietly behind the scenes, then that is even more cause for concern. Israel should have convened its Forum of Nine senior ministers and chosen one of two options: either conduct an all-out public diplomacy battle in friendly countries — which it did not do — or take a more sophisticated approach. As soon as Israel realized it could not persuade or stop Abbas from going ahead with his bid, he should not have been threatened with sanctions (as Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz did) or with slogans calling for his ousting (a la Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman). Such threats are not credible, and every government knows this.
Under such circumstances, it would have been better to dissolve the tension. Israel might have said that, yes, the Palestinian Authority violated its agreements, but Israel could understand Abbas' difficult position in relation to Hamas, which has gained stature on the Palestinian street. Given this situation, Israel would still oppose the bid, but could understand that it was a stunt meant to help his leadership survive.
Given that Abbas' survival depends on Israeli economic and security aid, Israel could have gone one better by not coming out against the initiative but merely standing aside. None of this can substitute for the need for bilateral negotiations, which Abbas has repeatedly dodged, without justification. He has proved his recalcitrance in numerous ways. On Thursday night it was through a hate-filled and venomous U.N. speech.
If Israel had adopted such a sophisticated approach, it would have done nothing to change the outcome in the U.N. General Assembly. However, it would have attenuated the gloating of demonstrators in Ramallah. If Israel does not play their game, they will have nothing to celebrate.