Israel stepped up diplomatic maneuvers to counter the Palestinian Authority's unilateral attempt to gain non-member status at the United Nations on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convening the octet, a senior forum of eight ministers, to discuss retribution against the bid. The move follows Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman's announcement that he plans to hold an urgent meeting of Israeli ambassadors to European countries in Vienna on Thursday over the Palestinian bid.
According to an Army Radio report, in addition to the implementation of punitive measures including freezing the distribution of funds to the PA and revoking the special privileges of senior Palestinian leaders, the quorum also considered the adoption of the Levy Report in response to the PA's bid.
The controversial government-commissioned Levy Report found that the establishment of Israeli communities in the West Bank is consistent with international law.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in turn, was in Jordan on Monday to consult with the Arab League on how best to lobby world leaders in advance of the vote.
The PA is likely to make its bid in the latter part of the month. The move will upgrade the Palestinian standing at the United Nations to non-member observer status, and is seen as a de facto declaration of statehood, even though it would not grant them full UN membership.
It could, however, allow them the right to legally pursue Israel though the International Criminal Court.
Liberman is likely to help the ambassadors hone the message that the measure is part of the Palestinians’ diplomatic war against Israel and that they are unlikely to pursue peace after the vote.
Jerusalem has warned that the bid is a breach of the Oslo Accords, which binds both parties to resolve the issue through a negotiated solution, and has threatened punitive measures if the PA moves forward with the statehood recognition attempt.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has called on Abbas to achieve statehood through a negotiated solution rather than through unilateral measures.
Netanyahu publicly invited the PA president to sit down with him and negotiate without preconditions on Sunday at the weekly cabinet meeting and on Wednesday during a press conference in Paris.
On Friday, however, Abbas told Channel 2 that the Palestinians intend to press forward with their United Nations bid. He added that he would only negotiate with the understanding that the two-state solution would be based on the pre-1967 lines.
Netanyahu has said that a return to the pre-1967 lines would leave Israel with indefensible borders, and that the issue of borders should be dealt with through negotiations.
But the Palestinians believe that they can only negotiate once the pre-1967 lines have been acknowledged as the border of their future state.
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said any direct talks must wait until after the UN vote, which the Palestinians look certain to win given that they have majority support in the UN General Assembly. The vote cannot be vetoed.
“When we return from the UN General Assembly and are a non-member state based on 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as the capital, the way to direct negotiations will be open to achieve security and stability on this basis,” Abu Rudaineh said on Monday.
“Yesterday I invited President Abbas to start direct negotiations without preconditions,” Netanyahu told Reuters television in Jerusalem.
“Unfortunately, I have still not heard back from the Palestinian side... I hope they won’t go to one-sided action in the UN because that will only push peace back and will only produce unnecessary instability,” he said.
Israel has asked other countries to try and pressure the Palestinians to drop their bid, but a PLO official said that the Palestinians already have the support of more than 150 of the 193 UN member states.
Israel already knows that it cannot thwart the passage of the bid, but it hopes to sway European and Western nations not to support it. It is assumed that the United States would oppose the bid, but it is unclear what position the European Union would take. A PLO official said he believed the Palestinians had the support of 18 of the 48 nations that belong to the Council of Europe.
Abbas’s call for renewed negotiations along the pre-1967 lines has the support of many left-leaning Israeli politicians including President Shimon Peres, former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
A spokeswoman for Peres said that the president phoned Abbas on Sunday, but did not disclose any details of the conversation. The official Palestinian news agency, WAFA, said the two men discussed the peace process.
Dozens of left-wing activists demonstrated in support of Abbas on Monday night in front of the Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv.
But Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Abbas was disingenuous in that Olmert as prime minister and Livni had made him a generous offer that fell close to his demands and yet he still rejected it.
Ya’alon added that Netanyahu had tried very hard to negotiate with Abbas. The last time indirect talks were held in Jordan, he said, it was the Palestinians that left the negotiating table.
Reuters contributed to this report.