Both are in the right and, at the same time, in the wrong. Compared to establishing peace in the Middle East, fitting a square into a round hole appears to be an easy task.
Naturally, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is in the right when he applies for full-member status for his country in the U.N. For years, the peace process has been stalled. While Israel builds settlement after settlement in the occupied territories, Palestinians feel themselves more and more confined and are distraught. In 2007, then-President George W. Bush said that it could be finished within a year. In 2010, his successor, Barack Obama, said that it could be accomplished within 12 months. Nothing was accomplished. The most recent statement by the Quartet on the Middle East, in which the EU, the U.N., Russia and the United States are represented, might be of the same quality. This time, the year 2012 is the goal for a peace treaty.
Abbas’ application was, at least in part, an act of self-protection. If he had hesitated longer, his nation would possibly have overthrown him. Radical groups like Hamas would have felt justified in the erroneous assumption that peace with the Jews was wrong and that the goal is the destruction of Israel. And Israel would likewise have seen itself justified in the erroneous assumption that only military occupation of its neighboring country would ensure sufficient protection.
Israel’s Premier Netanyahu is also in the right: Before an independent state of Palestine can be permitted, a peace treaty must be completed. In the past 11 years, Israel gave in twice and was punished for it twice. In 2000, Israel withdrew from South Lebanon and witnessed how the Iran-supported Hezbollah made itself at home. In 2005, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip. The consequence: The Iran-supported Hamas took over the stretch of land. Missiles fell on Israel. Israel will think twice about taking a risk a third time by vacating somewhat larger settlements in the West Bank.
The application of the Palestinians for full membership in the U.N. does not come at the right time. An agreement can only be reached through a mediator who can punish and reward at the same time. But who can that be? Not Germany, which helps the Palestinians a lot materially and, by virtue of its particular responsibility for the nation of Israel, would be suited for a larger role in the Middle East. But Germany can — at least at the present time — contribute nothing. The Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs is clearly on the outside. Apart from clichés, nothing is heard from Guido Westerwelle. From Angela Merkel, by the way, also nothing.
It depends on the U.S. However, President Obama has failed. His threat to use a veto against Abbas’ application was intended to dissuade the Palestinians from exactly this intention. Abbas ignored that. Now Palestinians and Israelis are drawn into the U.S. electoral campaign. It, however, is dominated by U.S. domestic policy. Earnest developments are to be anticipated, at the earliest, in the summer of 2013. Then a new U.S. government can be capable of work. Until then, the silence of the grave will prevail in the Middle East at best; at worst, the violence will escalate.