September 16th, 2011
07:02 PM ET
Washington (CNN) - As President Obama fights to keep the nation's focus on his jobs plan, a new crisis looms. He'll be thrust into a high stakes showdown over Palestinian statehood when the United Nations General Assembly gathers in New York next week.
“The Palestinians will not, and cannot, achieve statehood through a declaration at the United Nations. It is a distraction, and, in fact, it's counterproductive,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to reporters on Thursday.
But it's going to happen - so says Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
With peace talks stalled, Abbas insists he'll ask the UN Security Council to give Palestinians statehood status - which the Obama administration vows to veto.
That could alienate Arab allies the United States desperately needs: allies who might question the President's commitment to freedom for all people in the region, given his strong stand during the Arab spring.
“I think already diminished American credibility is going to be diminished further. There's no question about that. We are neither admired, feared, nor respected in this region,” said Middle East expert Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.
Exactly how the administration handles this diplomatic dance could also trigger a cascade of political troubles at home.
Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York worries President Obama will lose some Jewish support because of his rhetoric on Israel.
“I think there is the potential for being hurt in the next election if many Jewish voters perceive that the administration isn't standing foursquare behind Israel and that there is somehow a ‘blame both parties’ attitude,” Engel said.
Already there are signs of tension with the President's Jewish supporters, usually a reliable Democratic constituency.
Many were angered by President Obama’s speech last May suggesting controversial borders for a future Palestinian state.
Then there was the awkward meeting in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lectured the President in the Oval Office. And this week a Republican won a longtime Democratic and heavily Jewish district in New York- that victory is seen in part as a rejection of the President's positions on Israel.
When it comes to Jewish voters, there is still uncertainty according to Rep. Engel.
“I do think that people are uneasy, they want to know the President feels it in his guts. And many people don't get that feeling,” the Congressman said.
Still, a majority of Jewish voters support the President. According to a recent Gallup poll, 54% approve of the job he’s doing, though that’s down from 68% earlier this year. It’s worth noting the Jewish vote is small part – just 2% – of the overall electorate. Given the tough environment the President’s expected to face in 2012, he can’t afford to alienate any part of his base.