Remember, Obama actually offered to sign onto this if the Palestinian Authority agreed to downgrade the measure from a formal resolution to a nonbinding “statement.” In the fine quasi-national tradition of never failing to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, Mahmoud Abbas refused. So the Security Council took up the resolution and The One’s hand was forced: 14-1, with even the British rising to speak in support of the resolution after the U.S. had cast its veto.

But don’t you fret, Israel critics. There was plenty of sugar for you from Susan Rice after the roll was taken. Think of this as the next best thing to voting “present”:

Our opposition to the resolution before this Council today should therefore not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity. On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. For more than four decades, Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 has undermined Israel’s security and corroded hopes for peace and stability in the region. Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects for peace…

It is the Israelis’ and Palestinians’ conflict, and even the best-intentioned outsiders cannot resolve it for them. Therefore every potential action must be measured against one overriding standard: will it move the parties closer to negotiations and an agreement? Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides. It could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations and, if and when they did resume, to return to the Security Council whenever they reach an impasse…

While we agree with our fellow Council members—and indeed, with the wider world—about the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, we think it unwise for this Council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians. We therefore regrettably have opposed this draft resolution.

I’m amazed that Abbas didn’t accept Obama’s compromise. Surely a unanimously approved statement is worth more than a vetoed resolution, especially at a moment when U.S. fear of Arab populism has us willing to pander to anti-Israeli sentiment. Remember too that Abbas was a Mubarak ally because he fears the threat to his own power from Islamists like Hamas; under those circumstances, you’d think he’d be eager to win a PR victory by swinging Obama over to his side on the settlements. I guess, thanks to Rice’s statement, he got the next best thing. Over at Commentary, Omri Ceren wonders if the point of her mini-tirade wasn’t to make sure we alienated everyone in the region today. Answer: Yep, that’s the practical effect. She’s trying to please everyone in the region, but in practice she’ll please no one, much as Obama’s endless “orderly transition” stance did him basically no favors in Egypt. In the new Middle East, the name of the game is scrupulous neutrality!

And speaking of Egypt and the new Middle East, a few highlights from today’s news wires: Sunni fanatic Yusuf al-Qaradawi did indeed preach to a massive crowd in Tahrir Square (stressing unity and ecumenicism for the time being, natch); the Egyptian military has apparently okayed passage for two Iranian ships through the Suez Canal, a none-too-veiled message to Israel about new regional realities; divisions are emerging among the young, more liberal vanguard of the protest movement, creating even more space for the Muslim Brotherhood; and Egyptians themselves are wondering how they’ll ever build a vibrant economy given the threat that could pose to the military’s many industrial rackets. Mort Zuckerman surveys the scene and wonders if, in time, Egypt won’t end up as America’s greatest enemy in the Middle East. Rice’s pandering today and the White House’s continued push for a final peace deal between Israel and Palestine are both efforts to make sure that doesn’t happen, on the theory that once the Palestinians are happy, a lot of the anti-western air will go out of the Islamist balloon. Read this smart piece by Brendan O’Neill from a few days ago, though, reflecting on the fact that the Palestinian issue was missing at the Egyptian protests. The extent to which the new Arab populism will be affected by events in Gaza and the West Bank is unclear: Maybe Egyptians will care a lot about an Israel/Palestine peace treaty or maybe they’ll re-embrace Nasser-esque nationalism and go on hating Israel for entirely different reasons. Maybe a peace deal will cripple the Muslim Brotherhood and its anti-Zionist agitation at the polls, or maybe they’ll call the Palestinian negotiators who sign the treaty traitors to Islam and demand a unified Arab invasion to reclaim the stolen land of Palestine. That’s not to minimize the effect of a peace agreement — it can only help — but it is to say that ending the settlements and signing a treaty will never be a panacea for this conflict. Ask Anwar Sadat about that.

Update: And as a perfect illustration of my point, here’s a snippet of Qaradawi’s “sermon” today in Cairo. Think he’ll start praying for something else when Israel and the Palestinians finally make peace?

In a special mention of the Palestinian issue, Al-Qaradhawi asked the Egyptian army to open wide the Rafah crossing and to pray for the re-conquest of Jerusalem by the Muslims, so that he and the Muslims could pray in security at Al-Aqsa Mosque. This part of his sermon was cheered and applauded by the crowd.[3]

He also said that he wants to give the Friday prayer sermon at Al-Aqsa mosque.[4]