The Quartet today has agreed on a new Middle East peace proposal that envisions a two-state settlement by the end of 2012. That may suggest that the Palestinian UN application, for all the Sturm und Drang surrounding it, may have had the somewhat salutary result of moving things off the static position in which they had settled for too long. On the other hand, the PLO is reportedly urging the Security Council to make a decision within two weeks, which means that US hopes for a long, slow process may not prove feasible. Since the US has promised it would veto a Security Council move to admit, it has already suffered damage in the region.
I deliberately didn't write on the subject Friday to give myself a little time to digest the implications. I'm still doing so. With the US moving into a political campaign, its options were limited at best; clearly the US is not in the driver's seat on the Middle East at the moment, but Arab Spring had already made that clear. There is indeed a danger of a renewed intifada or other outbreak of violence, but the Palestinians seem to have decided that the gamble is worth it and that this Israeli government will not otherwise move forward. But it's still dangerous, and if the US is increasingly marginalized, could become more so. On the other hand, nothing has really changed yet, and if the Palestinians cannot muster enough support in the UNSC to win, the US would be spared having to use the Veto. (Though having promised to use it, it has already shown its position clearly.) If Israel reacts sharply and imposes new sanctions on the Palestinians (or the US does, as many in Congress seek), the danger levels rise.
It's certainly time for new thinking, and there are potential opportunities here as well as dangers. Like Arab Spring itself, it will be clearer what to make of this period once it's over. Until then, we have to hang on for the ride.