As long as people are making predictions for the new year, I’ll hazard something myself: Israel and America will have a loud diplomatic dispute about 11 months from now.
President Obama’s initial attempts at jump-starting the Mideast peace process were well-intentioned and sound from a policy perspective, but somewhat naive politically. Demanding a settlement freeze, after all, conforms with decades of US policy and is necessary for the political and demographic survival of the Jewish state.
What he did not count on — but should have — was the Leninism of the Republican Party and the anti-Zionism of the current Israeli government. The GOP’s current commitment to putting party over country means that it will undermine any policy initiative, no matter how positive, that does not contribute to its assumption of power. Thus, the right wing immediately spread the meme of Obama’s supposed anti-Israel outlook. This is nonsense: of all the Presidential candidates, only Obama seems to know or care about the impending demographic disaster that will occur if the settlements persist. As for the Likud (and its US adjunct, also in the GOP), it seems oblivious to all of this, insisting that Israel is a democracy even if the settlements make it impossible ever to withdraw from the territories. (Note: this does not mean withdrawal now is necessary; rather, it must be possible, and the maintenance of hundreds of thousands of settlers in West Bank makes that close to impossible).
Seeing the political writing on the wall, Obama backed off. He basically had no other choice. But after the election, he will.
This is true whether or not he wins re-election. It is not too hard to imagine a series of Security Council resolutions demanding settlement freezes, or recognizing a Palestinian state. They might clarify UN Resolution 242/338 by saying that “the territories” referred to in those resolutions comprise all of the territories in mandatory Palestine conquered in 1967. These resolutions will not be anti-Israel, but rather anti-Likud, which as I noted above, is now a basically anti-Zionist party.
In the past, we could easily expect a US veto. But after Election Day, President Obama is a lame duck either way — his term will end either in January 2013 or January 2017. He will be untouchable politically. It is no accident that Ronald Reagan — that well-known enemy of Israel — initiated the formal US dialogue with the PLO in December 1988, when he had one month left in his term. It will not be hard for Obama to tell his UN representative to abstain from these motions. I think he will be particularly happy not to take the phone call from Netanyahu.
All of this assumes, of course, that the status quo remains in place for the next 10 months — which it might not. I still believe that even a politician as crass, unprincipled, and oleaginous as Netanyahu will not want to commit national suicide by attacking Iran. Ditto with mullahs in Tehran. If not, not. Then we will have bigger problems. But assuming complete madness does not overtake the Middle East (always arguable), the smash will come in about 11 months.