On Friday President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority put in an application to statehood at the UN. Normally the Security Council handles requests for membership. Washington has indicated that the U.S. representative will veto the application in the Council if it comes to a vote. The General Assembly can vote to upgrade Palestine's status from observer to non-member state. This would legally have the effect of making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a conflict between two states. On the ground nothing much will change. Israel will still remain the occupier of the West Bank with its checkpoints, by-pass roads and other signs of occupation. Hamas will still remain in charge of Gaza.
What will change is the illusion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to be resolved diplomatically anytime soon. This is because in the most blatant fashion Washington has demonstrated that American Middle East policy, or at least the policy regarding Israel and the Palestinians, is a captive of domestic politics. Obama by not engaging the Palestinians to pass a statehood resolution that protected Israel's interests, has left the Palestinians with proof that even a right-wing coalition government like the present Likud-Israel Beitenu government has more clout in Washington than does the Palestinian Authority.
Lebanese journalist Rami Khouri (look up Sat. Sep. 24) refers to this as demonstrating that "Israel-America" is "our new South Africa." Most Arab press tends to be much more based on opinion than fact--prescriptive rather than descriptive. Khouri is trying to demonstrate that Israel and America are one entity when it comes to Middle East policy and that this entity is as diplomatically isolated as Pretoria was in the 1980s under the apartheid regime. While this is demonstrably true of Israel, it is not true of Washington. Jerusalem under the present Likud coalition government has returned Israel to the diplomatic isolation that Israel suffered from before the Oslo era of the 1990s. While Washington is not there yet and probably never will be, Washington could go back to the era of the "Arab cold war" as Arabist Malcolm Kerr dubbed the period from 1964 to 1975. This was the era when the region was bitterly divided on ideological grounds between the pro-Soviet radical military dictatorships like those in Egypt, Iraq, Libya Syria, and the Yemens on one hand and the pro-American monarchies such as Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia on the other. The Palestinians remained in the radical camp until Oslo in 1993. Egypt switched sides under Sadat in 1975. And Lebanon was convulsed by a civil war in 1975 that served as a proxy battleground for the various contenders for power in the region including Israel and lasted for fifteen years.
The Islamists have effectively replaced the fascist pro-Soviet military dictatorships as Washington's main regional opponents. If the Palestinian issue would once more become a rallying cry, as it threatened to do in late 2008 during the Gaza War, we could see proxy wars in either Lebanon or Iraq. This would have the effect of permanently derailing the Arab Spring.
While the Israeli-Palestinian issue is far from being ripe for resolution, it could be handled in such a way that would make it less attractive to would-be arsonists.