Today's expected vote by the UN General Assembly to raise the Palestinians' status from observer to that of non-member observer state may be largely symbolic. It will not alter entrenched realities on the ground, nor will it revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian "peace process". The US and Israel, of course, are opposed to the initiative, but it is a new and much-needed affirmation that only a two-state solution can end a dispute that has poisoned the Middle East for more than 60 years.
And international support is growing. Two-thirds of UN members are expected to vote in favour, among them France and a majority of European countries. All the more disappointing then, that Britain, torn as usual between the US and Europe, is leaning towards abstention, as William Hague told the Commons yesterday.
Washington's argument, that full Palestinian statehood cannot be imposed from the outside but must be secured in a direct deal with Israel, might make sense if serious negotiations were in progress. In fact, they have rarely looked more remote. The so-called peace process has been at a standstill for four years or more. An uneasy ceasefire, effectively dictated by Israeli arms, has just ended Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza. Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who will probably be returned to power in January's elections – Israel has continued to expand settlements in the West Bank. The US, the one power that has leverage with Israel, is far more concerned with the crises in Iran and Syria than the Palestinian problem.
Elevating the Palestinians' status at the UN will change none of this. It may throw up yet more obstacles to peace – for instance, if the Palestinians were to pursue Israel for war crimes at the International Criminal Court. But all this is short term. The long-term demographic reality is that only a two-state solution, and the creation of a viable Palestine, will ensure Israel's own survival as a democratic Jewish state. Today's General Assembly vote is a reminder of that basic truth.