Today's UN General Assembly resolution granting Palestine official status as a "non-member state" is absurd. It would be more accurate to call Palestine a "non-state member," since (by its own doing) it does not possess the basic territorial or political foundations of sovereignty, but entire UN bureaucracies are devoted to its welfare. The resolution is more than just a provocation against Israel--it also reflects the weakness of President Barack Obama, along with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and the remnants of the Israeli peace camp.
Abbas rejected an earnest appeal by the Obama administration to avoid unilateral moves at the UN, even those that fell short of a declaration of full statehood. The Associated Press reported today that Obama offered to "re-engage as a mediator" (i.e. to put more pressure on Israel) if Abbas would back down at the UN. He refused, showing stark contempt for Obama's leadership and diplomatic efforts, and for the peace process in general. It is clear that the Palestinian leadership no longer fear the prospect of losing U.S. aid, regardless of what they do.
That is not because Abbas himself is strong, however. Indeed, his move was partly motivated by the desire to play catch-up with Hamas in Gaza, whose profile was enhanced in the recent conflict with Israel. Terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah argue that they achieve more through violence and open conflict with Israel than the Palestinian Authority achieves through negotiation. What they accomplish for the people they purport to represent is unclear--yet Abbas clearly feels the need to remind the world of his, and the Authority's, relevance.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Abbas's gambit at the UN would be a step backwards. In a surprise move, however, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert backed Abbas, suggesting that recognition of a Palestinian state was consistent with a two-state solution. Olmert, who is mulling a return to politics, once led the centrist Kadima party, which has drifted leftwards. His support for the UN resolution epitomizes the Israeli peace camp's desperate weakness, and its willingness to ally with international pressure against Israel.