Negotiating Palestinian statehood was an early priority for President Obama's administration. But these days, U.S. diplomats are spending much of their time trying to stop the Palestinians from going to the United Nations to try to win diplomatic recognition.
Palestinians say they have no other choice, since negotiations are deadlocked.
Some former Israeli officials came to Washington this week to urge the U.S. to help.
Retired Maj. Gen. Shlomo Gazit says he understands that Washington has other priorities these days. And he says most Israelis are just fine with that.
"The majority are quite happy. We go on living our lives, don't bother us, we are doing what we want and everything is fine. The minority is very much worried about it," he says.
The former military intelligence official is not your usual peacenik, though he came to Washington on a trip sponsored by the pro-peace advocacy group J Street. Gazit, who once oversaw the occupied territories, says he fears for the future of Israel if it doesn't allow Palestinians to have a viable nation.
"The state I've been fighting for for the last 75 years — for its establishment, for its strengthening — this state may lose its Jewish character, may lose its being a democracy, and that's the end of Israel from my point of view," he says.
Gazit says the Palestinian effort to get the U.N. to recognize Palestine will only add to Israel's diplomatic isolation. But he doesn't see his country or the U.S. offering serious initiatives to counter this.
No Basis For Negotiations?
Nor does Sabri Saidam, an official of the Fatah movement that controls the Palestinian Authority.
"We have a saying in Arabic that if it was to rain, there should have been some clouds in the sky, and there's definitely no clouds. There's no initiative whatsoever that invoked the interests of the Palestinian leadership to resume negotiations," he says.
The Palestinians were encouraged when Obama recently said that the starting point for talks should be the 1967 lines with agreed land swaps. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called those lines "indefensible." So Saidam argues there is no basis for negotiations.
"Israel is not willing to acknowledge the 1967 borders, Israel is not willing to stop settlement activities, and the Palestinians at large are not willing at all to negotiate their pizza while it's being eaten," he says.
The U.S. hasn't helped matters, says Daniel Levy of the New American Foundation. He says that the Obama administration tried, but failed, to get its partners — the U.N., European Union and Russia — to sign onto a statement encouraging the Palestinians to drop the U.N. bid. The text, Levy says, looked like it was drafted in Jerusalem.
"That's where we got stuck. I think that isn't helping get past this U.N. bump. It's probably going to make a U.N. vote more likely and ... this kind of approach, it's really beginning to marginalize and almost make irrelevant U.S. diplomacy on such an important issue," he says.
Time May Be Running Out
The U.S. is expected to veto any U.N. Security Council resolution recognizing Palestine but would be in a small minority if the Palestinians take their case to the U.N. General Assembly. A top U.S. diplomat at the U.N., Rosemary DiCarlo, told the Security Council this week there are no shortcuts to statehood.
"Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September will not create an independent Palestinian state. The United States will not support unilateral campaigns at the United Nations in September or any other time," she said.
But the Palestinians show no sign of backing off. And some Israelis — including Gazit, the retired general — are anxious, saying the status quo is not sustainable.
"The status quo has never been a status quo," he says. "It's always on the move and in the wrong direction. And now we have reached a moment that it may become really dangerous. We don't have time. It's not a question of decades, it's a question of a couple of months."
He says diplomats may have already run out of time.