Ever since the 1970s, the U.S. has served as the primary facilitator for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But over the last 24 hours, two events have raised questions about whether the U.S. can still play that role. On Thursday, Palestinian officials defiantly announced that they will press their bid for full U.N. membership in the Security Council despite President Obama's call yesterday for bilateral negotiations outside the U.N. And on Wednesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy challenged President Obama's approach by proposing that the Palestinians upgrade to "observer" status at the U.N. General Assembly as a precursor to statehood.
These developments, The New York Times writes today, speak to new realities in the Middle East and America. "Expansions of settlements in the West Bank and a hardening of Israeli attitudes have isolated Israel and its main backer, the United States," the paper notes, while "dissension among Palestinian factions has undermined the prospect for a new accord as well." In the U.S. the Times adds, it's politically difficult for Obama to get tough on Israel because "Republicans have mounted a challenge to lure away Jewish voters who supported Democrats in the past." These dynamics have cultivated international frustration with the peace process in recent years.
That frustration has been on display in several reports this week. On Tuesday night, for example, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told a former U.N. Mideast envoy that he was not looking forward to his marathon meetings with U.S. officials during the U.N. General Assembly session this week, according to the Times. "I am not happy with anybody, not with the Americans, nor the Arabs. I am fed up with all these people and I don't know what to do when I return back."
But even as America's clout in Mideast peace negotiations appears to wane, news outlets are suggesting that Abbas' star is rising. In spearheading the Palestinian bid for statehood at the U.N., the Times writes, Abbas appears to be emerging from Yasir Arafat's "shadow" and enjoyed a "moment of unparalleled prestige" both at the U.N. (where Palestinian statehood has supplanted the Arab Spring as the top issue) and among Palestinians back home, besting his harder-line rival Hamas in the court of public opinion. "At 76, some observers believe Abbas has his legacy in mind as he nears the end of a career defined by failed efforts to negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state in territories captured by Israel in a 1967 war," Reuters writes today.