Joel Mowbray

As the Arab world burns, the Palestinians are sending out a smoke screen. Rather than engage in peace talks with Israel or reform the rampant corruption within its government, the Palestinian Authority is driving the West to distraction.

While Israel has been eager to return to the negotiating table, the Palestinian Authority (PA) appears emboldened to stand up to the United States. Not only is the PA assiduously avoiding talks with Israel, its prime minister last week announced plans to seek a "unity government" with Hamas.

This comes on the heels of a direct snub of the leader of the free world. Last week, Obama reportedly made a personal appeal in a lengthy phone call with PA President Mahmoud Abbas not to push for a vote on an anti-Israel resolution at the U.N. Security Council. Obama was ignored, and the United States was forced to veto the latest U.N. fixation on Israeli settlements.

But the PA paid no price for dismissing the U.S. In fact, it scored a major victory when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton changed U.S. policy by calling settlements "illegitimate."

Pushing the U.N. vote clearly was a move to refocus Western attention on Israel, away from the spectacle of governments across the Arab world teetering on the brink.

It also was impressive. Israel, in a bid to appease the United States and the Europeans, has quietly stopped issuing new permits for construction in West Bank settlements, according to a senior Israeli official. The U.S. was aware of Israel's major concession, yet the Obama administration allowed the Security Council to work through its months-long process all the way through to a vote.

Even though it allowed work on permits that were issued before the 10-month "freeze" on settlement construction, the Netanyahu government's decision to refuse to issue new permits carries significant domestic political risks - and the end result was a 14-1 Security Council vote to condemn the Jewish state and a high-profile attack by Clinton, both on Friday.

Of course, even critics of Israel know that the settlements issue is a canard. Most of the large settlement blocs are crucial to providing a security buffer around Jerusalem, which otherwise would be surrounded on three sides by Palestinian territory. That vulnerability helped spur Israel's Arab neighbors to instigate the Six Day War in 1967.

Most of the "settlements" would be annexed by Israel in any reasonable vision of a two-state solution, so condemnation of building mostly in areas that would remain part of the Jewish state is purely theatrical.

Here's the truth: Abbas simply cannot resume peace talks. He and his government have done nothing to prepare Palestinians for what a final deal would entail.


Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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