Publicly, the Palestinians say that they will not waver in their efforts to seek statehood at the UN Security Council. They plan to formally petition for statehood tomorrow. Saeb Erekat, the former head of negotiations with Israel, says firmly, “We will not allow any political maneuvering on this issue.” This is seen as a rebuff to President Obama, who sought an alternative to a process at the UN that could ultimately end with a US veto, and this forces a reckoning over the US “having to share, or even cede, its decades-long role as the architect of Middle East peacemaking.”

Except the Guardian writes that the alternative option is a done deal:

The Palestinian leadership remains prepared to put statehood on the backburner at the UN security council in order to leave room for the revival of peace talks, according to senior Palestinian sources.

The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is said to have told Barack Obama at a meeting on Wednesday evening that he would agree to delaying a security council vote by several weeks, although the Palestinians are maintaining the line in public that any delays will be “procedural not political”.

The Palestinian offer comes despite Obama angering them by defending the US threat to veto the bid for statehood while praising revolutions in other parts of the Arab world.

This could still collapse. It’s predicated on a year-long peace process that culminates in a Palestinian state. And there’s a major precondition to the talks – Israel must stop its settlement-building activity. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who appears to be the driving force behind the compromise, wants no preconditions on talks, but the Palestinians would have a hard time agreeing to that. Rallies inside the West Bank support the bold approach to force statehood at the UN. Something must be delivered to the Arab street for them to go back on that.

Still, nobody’s put a timetable on the Security Council vote. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said that delays at the UNSC can only be for “procedural” and not political reasons, but it’s very unclear what that means. Perhaps it suggests that Abbas would blame bureaucratic delays while continuing negotiations on whether to hold negotiations.

Sarkozy floated the idea of Palestine applying for Observer Status to the General Assembly, which cannot be vetoed and which the US has apparently said through back channels that they would accept. That would be a step on the road to a Palestinian state but not a full one.

The President said in his speech before the United Nations that “Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN – if it were that easy it would have been accomplished by now.” But it actually would be accomplished if the US stepped aside. I believe that he badly wants an agreement, but there’s no partner for peace inside Israel, and the Palestinians are doing what any rational actor would do – use the leverage they have to force the Israelis to the bargaining table. However, it’s not yet certain whether the Palestinians have succumbed to external pressure from the West.

…more on the President’s UN speech from Matt Duss.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, by “it” in the last paragraph, I mean statehood, not peace in the Middle East. Nobody has a clue what it would take to accomplish peace, and certainly not the current set of leaders.

David Dayen

David Dayen