|Photo by: Associated Press|
Israel warns of unilateral steps if PA seeks UN statehood
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Gov't source says considering reviving Olmert’s “convergence” ideas for a withdrawal from parts of the West Bank.
Israel will pursue its own unilateral steps if the Palestinians do not return to
the negotiating table and instead seek UN support for unilateral moves to
declare a state within the pre- 1967 lines, a government source told The
Jerusalem Post late Thursday night.
“If the Palestinians think that
unilateral moves are a one-way street, they are sadly mistaken. It is an
option that both sides have,” said the source.
UN Mideast envoy slams Israel's renewed W.Bank building
PA opposed to returning to talks if building continues
There was some speculation
that Israel may be considering reviving aspects of former prime minister Ehud
Olmert’s “convergence” ideas for a unilateral withdrawal from isolated parts of
the West Bank, evacuating settlements and deploying soldiers there instead. But
there was no official confirmation on Thursday night of any such plans and a
settler source dismissed the notion as nonsense.
Direct talks between
Israel and the Palestinian Authority, begun in early September, were suspended
on September 26 when Israel did not renew its 10-month moratorium on new
On Thursday, the PA reiterated that it would
only come back to the talks if the freeze were revived, and concern is growing
in Jerusalem that the Palestinians are tilting increasingly toward unilateral
The government source told the Post that “Israel is against
unilateral steps. Israel believes that all problems should be solved around the
negotiating table, but if the Palestinians choose unilateral steps, they can
expect Israel to respond in kind.”
On Wednesday night, indeed, Defense
Minister Ehud Barak said Israel needed to show sincerity in the negotiations but
it also needed to have a well-developed back-up plan. He spoke in
Jerusalem at an event organized by the Jewish People Policy Institute.
Hours later, US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not be solved through
unilateral moves. “There is no substitute for face-to-face discussion and,
ultimately, for an agreement that leads to a just and lasting peace,” Clinton
Israel is said to be exploring a number of unilateral options, but
the source would not specify which.
Other reportedly mooted ideas include
the possibility that Israel would no longer seek an “end of conflict”
declaration from the Palestinians — which would presumably lower the price of a
non-final deal. The Palestinians would get a state in most of the West Bank,
with international safeguards about a future deal, but decisions on Jerusalem
and refugees would be put off.
The Palestinians are said to adamantly
reject any such scenario, fearing that they would lose any further leverage and
end up with a mini-state.
Former Meretz party head Yossi Beilin said on
Thursday, however, that the PA could be persuaded that this is the only way to
achieve statehood. “It is better to have something than to have nothing,” he
told The Associated Press.
Likud Minister Yuli Edelstein said that
warnings of possible Israeli unilateral moves were most likely part of the
ongoing psychological warfare with the Palestinians. The common wisdom in the
government has been to oppose such moves, he said.
Knesset Speaker Reuven
Rivlin and former defense minister Moshe Arens are calling for the West Bank to
be annexed and the Palestinians there eventually offered full citizenship —
moves that would take Israel a long way toward becoming a binational
Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians continued to rise on
Thursday in the wake of a report by AP that construction had begun on 550 new
homes since the moratorium expired.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle
East Process Robert H. Serry said he was dismayed by the report. “Reports
detailing the commencement of hundreds of new Israeli settlement housing units
in the occupied Palestinian territory since the 26 September expiry of Israel’s
moratorium are alarming,” he said.
According to AP, at 550 new housing
starts, settlers are building at a rate four time faster than in other years.
But this report did not take into account the absence of any new housing starts
for the last 10 months as a result of the moratorium.
According to the
Central Bureau of Statistics, 2,000 new homes have been built per year, on
average, over the past decade, in West Bank settlements.
In 2009, for
example, work was begun on 1,888 homes over the 11 months before the freeze took
effect. In 2008, work was begun on 2,107 new homes.
A government source
told the Post that the planned construction in the West Bank is “minimal and
will in no way affect the final contours of a peace agreement between us and the
A settler source said that AP and Peace Now had inflated
the figures, which were half of what was reported.
AP, Khaled Abu Toameh
and Hilary Krieger contributed to this report.