Israel at center of international diplomatic storm as vatican, FIFA, EU step up pressure

ByLINDA GRADSTEIN/THE MEDIA LINE
May 17, 2015 06:57

The international interference could end up backfiring and encouraging Palestinians to stay away from the negotiating table.

3 minute read.



pope abbas

Pope Francis (R) meets PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem May 25, 2014.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The Palestinian decision to internationalize their conflict with Israel seems to be paying off as Israel is coming under diplomatic pressure on several fronts at the same time. The Vatican decision to recognize “Palestine” as a state, an expected French-sponsored resolution to the United Nations Security Council, and the possible expulsion of Israel from FIFA, the international soccer federation, are creating the sense that Israel is losing the diplomatic battle.

“There is a sense of erosion,” a senior Israeli official told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “We see more and more countries and organizations buying into the unilateral logic of the Palestinians.”

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But he warned, ultimately it will not be possible to create a Palestinian state without Israeli approval.

“No matter how much the Palestinians obtain in declarations and international organizations it can’t replace negotiations,” he said. “Palestinians have given up on negotiations and we believe it’s a huge mistake.”

The latest decision by the Vatican to sign a treaty with the state of “Palestine”, concerning the Holy See’s activities in the Palestinian Authority, comes before a weekend meeting between the Pope and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. It is an important symbolic move by the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. At the UN, the Vatican and "Palestine" are both considered non-member observer states. In a statement, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi welcomed the decision.

“The significance of this decision goes beyond the political and legal into the symbolic and moral domains and sends a message to all people of conscience that the Palestinian people deserve the right to self-determination, formal recognition, freedom, and statehood,” she said in a statement.

Some Israeli analysts said the move by the Vatican, while purely symbolic, was nevertheless important.

“It’s a big deal because the Pope is the spiritual leader of hundreds of millions of Christians,” Eytan Gilboa of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University told The Media Line. “Christians are being murdered all over the Middle East but what is important for him is the particular recognition of Palestine.”

But others said that Israel should be more concerned about its relationship with the US, then with the Vatican.

“This has basically been Vatican policy all along,” Amiel Ungar, an Israeli commentator. “The big enchilada is how much the Obama administration is behind the European moves.”

France is expected to soon present a new resolution to the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state. In the past, the US has vetoed all such resolutions, but after the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the US has said it will “reassess” that decision.

The guidelines of Netanyahu’s new government does not include any mention of a Palestinian state, a change from the previous government. A group of former European leaders and diplomats has called for more pressure on Israel, and charges that EU political and financial aid has achieved nothing but the “preservation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and imprisonment of Gaza.”

At the same time, the Palestinians have been campaigning in FIFA, the international football federation, to suspend Israel’s membership or to level sanctions on Israel for limiting the free movement of Palestinian soccer players and refusing them permission to travel abroad. The 200 national leagues in FIFA are expected to vote on the resolution in the coming weeks.

All of this is expected to lead to growing international pressure on Israel, but it could also end up backfiring and encouraging Palestinians to stay away from the negotiating table.

“Israel has only three cards it can use with the Palestinians – giving up territory, international recognition, and the release of Palestinian prisoners,” Eytan Gilboa said. “But if they get the recognition without any negotiations, what motivation do they have to negotiate with Israel?”

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