US officials are scrambling to broker a deal that avoids a Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations.

On Friday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced that he would go ahead with a bid for statehood at the UN Security Council, despite the threat of a US veto. Abbas used the President’s words from the last UN General Assembly meeting against him, saying that “Obama himself said he wanted to see a Palestinian state by September.”

Now, the US has brokered a meeting between Israelis and Palestinians on the sidelines of this year’s General Assembly meeting, aimed at hopefully avoiding the clash at the UN.

Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad and Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak held an unannounced meeting a day ahead of the UN General Assembly, which is being dominated by a Palestinian bid for UN recognition that the United States has threatened to veto.

Fayyad told reporters that the two had discussed “security issues” and the Palestinian Authority’s “readiness to govern.” Israeli officials did not comment on the meeting [...]

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks with EU foreign affairs representative Catherine Ashton. With the United States determined to stop full state recognition, Clinton said the two were discussing “the way forward.”

Quartet envoy Tony Blair held separate talks with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas will hold his first meeting of the week with Ban on Monday.

Blair expressed hope that a deal could be reached. “I think there is a way of avoiding a confrontation,” the former British prime minister said.

To some extent, Abbas has already succeeded. The bid for statehood was an attempt to use the only leverage the Palestinians have in the stalled Middle East peace process. They have the votes at the UN to achieve at least some status as a state, which forces negotiations on a level playing field. So the negotiations have come as a percursor to the vote on statehood. Which is the whole point, to kickstart a dead peace process.

In addition, the bold move by Abbas has set the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a new context. Now you have even the likes of Tom Friedman rallying to the Palestinian cause:

O.K., Mr. Netanyahu has a strategy: Do nothing vis-à-vis the Palestinians or Turkey that will require him to go against his base, compromise his ideology or antagonize his key coalition partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an extreme right-winger. Then, call on the U.S. to stop Iran’s nuclear program and help Israel out of every pickle, but make sure that President Obama can’t ask for anything in return — like halting Israeli settlements — by mobilizing Republicans in Congress to box in Obama and by encouraging Jewish leaders to suggest that Obama is hostile to Israel and is losing the Jewish vote. And meanwhile, get the Israel lobby to hammer anyone in the administration or Congress who says aloud that maybe Bibi has made some mistakes, not just Barack. There, who says Mr. Netanyahu doesn’t have a strategy? [...]

I have great sympathy for Israel’s strategic dilemma and no illusions about its enemies. But Israel today is giving its friends — and President Obama’s one of them — nothing to defend it with. Israel can fight with everyone or it can choose not to surrender but to blunt these trends with a peace overture that fair-minded people would recognize as serious, and thereby reduce its isolation.

Unfortunately, Israel today does not have a leader or a cabinet for such subtle diplomacy. One can only hope that the Israeli people will recognize this before this government plunges Israel into deeper global isolation and drags America along with it.

The Palestinians simply wanted a way to end the power imbalance, where they are stateless and less able to protest indignities like expanded settlements on their territory. They are putting Israel – and the US – in an uncomfortable position. And that’s usually the only way to get something big done.