Israel will take a “low-profile” approach to the Palestinians’ expected bid to upgrade their status at the UN on Thursday, so as not to divert attention from the Palestinian Authority’s violation of international agreements, a senior diplomatic source said Tuesday.
The source said that if Jerusalem, as some in the international community feared, greeted the Palestinian move with a decision to build thousands of new housing units in the settlements, then that would become the center of attention, not the Palestinian step.
“We will react at the right time,” he said.
Israel’s position is that the Palestinian resolution seeking observer state status is a clear violation of the underlying principle of the peace process, which requires all outstanding issues to be resolved by negotiations.
The source’s comments came even as senior Israeli officials were meeting in Washington with Obama administration officials to try and water down the ramifications of the resolution.
One idea being raised is that the legal consequences of the UN General Assembly accepting the Palestinians as a non-member observer state would not be retroactive.
This means that if, as a result of this decision, the PA is able to take Israel to the International Criminal Court, it will not be able to make claims against it for anything that happened before the GA resolution was passed.
The senior diplomatic official said that as a result of the Palestinian move, Israel would stick punctiliously to the letter of the agreements it has signed, including the 1994 Paris Protocol mandating economic relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Under that protocol, Israel can withhold tax money it collects for the PA to pay for goods and services Israel provides it.
The PA owes more than NIS 800 million to the Israel Electric Corporation, a debt that Jerusalem will now most likely withhold in the two upcoming monthly tax payments scheduled to the PA.
According to the source, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is making this move now to cover up his domestic failures and his inability to “deliver” a better life to the Palestinians.
The recent events in Gaza have shown him to be irrelevant, the source said, and he is looking for ways to demonstrate his significance.
“This move is not about the Palestinian people or a Palestinian state, but only his survival,” the source stated.
Although the official said the move would elicit “fireworks in Ramallah,” it will not change anything on the ground. He added that Israel had no intention of issuing declarations or taking dramatic steps to “punish” the Palestinians for the move.
Rather, he said, “everything we can do according to Israeli law and international agreements, we will do.”
This “low-profile” policy is in stark opposition to comments Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman made earlier that Israel should cancel the Oslo Accords and end all contact with the PA if Abbas went through with this measure at the UN.
US and European diplomats have urged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in recent weeks not to take overly dramatic steps in response to the PA move, which is largely viewed as symbolic, but rather to wait and see what Abbas does with the resolution before deciding how to react. Israeli officials said Netanyahu and Liberman were closely coordinated on this matter.
Israeli diplomatic officials, meanwhile, said that the Palestinians had turned down a British proposal asking them to commit to not taking Israel to the ICC, and to restart negotiations immediately, in exchange for British support for the resolution.
France, meanwhile, has said it will back the resolution.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said as much on Tuesday in the French National Assembly.
It was former French president Nicolas Sarkozy who first suggested that the PA go to the UNGA, as compensation for his not favoring its move last year to seek full statehood recognition from the UN Security Council. It would now be difficult for the French not to support the proposal, an Israeli Foreign Ministry source said Tuesday.
While many in the EU had hoped that the 27-member union would be able to muster a consensus on the issue, it is looking less and less likely, with some EU countries expected to support the move, others to oppose, and still others to abstain.