Everyone Saves Face with the Sarkozy Compromise

Despite Obama’s urging, the Palestinians are still expected to submit an application for full UN membership on Friday. That, of course, faces an American veto at the Security Council. The thing is, the Americans really don’t want to have to veto the resolution. And the Palestinians don’t want the Americans to veto either. The problem is, domestic political considerations in both Palestine and the United States seem to virtually assure a showdown that would be unproductive for both sides.

Enter Nicholas Sarkozy, who seems to have come up with a clever compromise that can lead the United States and Palestinians out the this diplomatic mess.  Here’s the crux of the Sarkozy plan from the French President’s UN Speech yesterday:

“Let us cease our endless debates on the parameters and let us begin negotiations and adopt a precise and ambitious timetable. Sixty years without moving one centimeter forward, doesn’t that suggest that we should change the method and the scheduling here? Let’s have one month to resume discussions, six months to find agreement on borders and security, one year to reach a definitive agreement.”

In effect this means that diplomacy proceeds along a few steps: 1.The Palestinians submit their application for membership on Friday (something the Palestinians want.) 2. The Security Council does nothing (delaying a vote the USA desperately wants to avoid). 3. The parties immediately return to the negotiating table (a common refrain from the USA this week.) 4. Palestinians submit application to General Assembly as “observer state” (something the USA seems squishy on–see below) 5. A vote on full membership for Palestinian in one year.

So what does the Obama administration make of this proposal? It would seem they are still not fully committed to it–particularly step 4. This is from a press briefing last night with NSC Communications Director Ben Rhodes:

Q. President Sarkozy, today, was quite (inaudible) this
morning at the U.N., and he seems to be inclined to want a Palestinian state created as a non-member state.  What is your reaction to that? And, also, this morning in his speech he was quite critical about a veto position from the United States.

MR. RHODES:  Yes.  So the Presidents were able to discuss
President Sarkozy’s speech, as I said.  AndI think our response is that there are some important ideas that President Sarkozy put forward, that he’s aiming to put forward constructive ideas as it relates to getting the parties back to the table; that we share a number of those views. We share a sense of urgency about getting the parties back to the table. We share a belief that negotiations are the best way to achieve a two-state solution and a lasting peace.  We share, frankly, the belief that security and territory can provide a basis for those negotiations
going forward because those are areas where the parties are the closest to agreement.  So there’s a lot in what President Sarkozy said that is in line with things that the President — President Obama has said, and that he would, again, be a party to going forward.

I guess the principal difference is, we oppose actions at the United Nations to confer — to achieve a Palestinian state.  So that would be the principal difference.  But the goal is the same.  And, frankly, as it relates to some of the issues around getting to direct talks, there’s a lot of overlap with the things that President Obama has said — including, again, the sense of urgency, the notion that you might build in some metrics around timelines.  It’s something that we’ve been discussing through the Quartet process.  So that’s an idea that has been on the table in the Quartet process, in the Quartet talks.

So we see a lot of overlap, even as we have a difference on the role of the United Nations.  But the two Presidents said that they very much wanted to coordinate going forward; that we want to be in touch with the French as they, again, pursue their ideas, and that the goal we share is getting these parties back to the table.

It’s kind of a wonder that the Obama administration is not leaping to embrace the Sarkozy compromise. The French plan buys both parties much needed time while also demanding an immediate resumption of peace talks. This would be an important diplomatic win for the United States–Obama staved off having to cast a veto all the while bringing the groups back to the negotiating table.  Also, deadlines have a way of concentrating and adding urgency to negotiations. A lot can happen in a year!  If the Administration knows that it has this looming vote (a mere two months before the election) perhaps it may inspire some sort of grand compromise in which Arab states pledge to recognize Israel in the same General Assembly resolution in which Palestine is granted UN membership. (A boy can dream!)

The point is, Sarkozy may have offered the United States and Palestine path back from the precipice. Let’s hope they are wise enough to take it.