The Gillard government just can’t take a trick. Even when the issue in question doesn’t really exist yet, it still manages to present an appearance of disarray.

This morning’s media report that foreign minister Kevin Rudd has advocated that Australia should abstain on a vote in the United Nations to recognise Palestine — a move that would be at odds with the Prime Minister’s vocal support for Israel, and presumably with the views of our American ally.

But the resolution is still just an idea: there is no proposed text, and it may never come to a vote. It’s entirely appropriate for the government to say, as did acting minister Martin Ferguson, that it “will make a decision on this matter closer to the time of any vote, in close consultation with our friends in Israel and the Arab world”.

Although such a resolution has been widely talked about for months now, there’s still a chance that it won’t go ahead. What the Palestinians really want is serious peace talks with Israel; although the statehood resolution is partly a “plan B” to use in their absence, it’s also a tactic to get Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to the negotiating table.

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Last week it looked as if it might be succeeding in that; Netanyahu proposed talks that would use the pre-1967 borders as a starting point — a position he has previously refused to endorse (wanting to keep the Jordan valley, to cut a Palestinian state off from the outside world), and which Barack Obama was condemned by the Israeli lobby for supporting back in May.

But the offer still comes with conditions — such as recognising Israel “as a Jewish state” — that Netanyahu knows the Palestinians cannot accept. Further movement in the near future seems unlikely, although it would be in the Palestinians’ interest to call the Israeli bluff if at all possible.

If a serious statehood resolution does go forward, everyone knows what will happen: it will be carried overwhelmingly in the general assembly, whose authority is mostly symbolic, and will be vetoed by the United States in the security council, where binding decisions are made.

This may or may not be the game changer that Mahmoud Abbas hopes for; experts on the region offer conflicting views. But faced with an Israeli government whose genuine interest in peace seems close to zero, it’s hard to blame the Palestinians for thinking they have to try something different.

Hence the confusion in Australian foreign policy circles. For most of the world, opposing such a resolution would not be an option; depending on the exact wording some will abstain, thinking the time not quite right, while most will support.

But in Australia, support is not an option: successive governments have tied our policy much too closely to Israel and the US. To depart from their line so dramatically would be a revolutionary step, and this, to put it mildly, is not a revolutionary government.

Which is not to say that Australian public opinion would be concerned.

Today’s Age is running a reader poll on “Should Australia vote ‘yes’ at the United Nations for a Palestinian state?”; the actual numbers are probably not significant (70% for yes as at deadline time), but the fact that the paper didn’t bother to poll the actual choice the government faces, instead asking about the option that we know it won’t take, suggests it knows full well that its behavior isn’t driven by public pressure.

On the other hand, the Fairfax papers are also capable of some strange reticence on the issue. Last Thursday, a report on an Israeli court decision on rogue settlements included the following line: “Much of the world regards the [established] settlements as illegal under international law.”

“Much”? Even the US accepts that the settlements are illegal; outside of Israel itself (and its professional advocates), the issue simply isn’t disputed. But if even the SMH feels the need to cover itself, don’t be surprised if the Gillard government also bends in the wind when it comes to Palestine.