J'lem unsure Obama moved EU against Palestinian UN bid

US officials say one reason Obama mentioned 1967 lines was to convince Europeans there is no need to support Palestinian state bid.

By
May 30, 2011 05:12
4 minute read.
Us President Barack Obama gives speech

Obama speech 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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In Jerusalem’s post mortem evaluations of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s stormy visit to Washington, questions were raised about the wisdom of the US trying to prevent European support of a Palestinian state at the UN by first setting a return to the 1967 lines, with mutual land swaps, as the negotiation baseline.

White House officials have said that one of the reasons why President Barack Obama unveiled this as the new US position in his May 19 speech on the Middle East was to better be able to convince the Europeans that there was no need to support a Palestinian state.

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But, according to various assessments in Jerusalem, it would have been more effective had the US first received European agreement not to support the Palestinian Authority move in the UN, and then make the statement about the 1967 lines, rather than the other way around.

The way it stands now, the 1967 language is out there, and there is no certainty the Europeans will support the US position against a Palestinian state at the UN.

Following the visit, there is a strong sense in Jerusalem that much better coordination is needed with the US at the highest levels. Jerusalem was only made aware that Obama was going to make his remark about the 1967 lines the night before he delivered his speech. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton then called Netanyahu the next day, and heard a furious reaction from the prime minister.

There still remained much speculation in Jerusalem as to why the US sprung the 1967 language on Israel, with one assessment being that Washington did not believe it would be possible to coordinate strategy with Israel on this matter.

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According to this line of reasoning, since Washington believed Israel would simply not accept this, and did not believe there was any language that Netanyahu could accept, they concluded there was no other choice than to unilaterally make the declaration.

In this assessment, the US did not foresee Netanyahu’s strong and public opposition.

Following the visit, the focus of diplomatic activity is expected to be on coming up with a coordinated strategy with the US to avoid the possible repercussions of a Palestinian initiative at the UN in September. This is based on the widespread assumption that there is no way PA President Mahmoud Abbas will return to negotiations.

The idea is to examine whether it is possible to articulate a vision of a future agreement that has elements in it that are important both for Israel and for the Palestinians, and that would receive widespread European support and convince the Europeans not to back Palestinian statehood at the UN.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, told the cabinet on Sunday that his visit to the US and his speech to Congress showed that Israel has friends in the world.

“They tell us all the time how we do not have any friends,” Netanyahu said.

“We have friends. The American people are a great and strong friend of Israel. There are some who do not understand the strength of this connection.

“The strength of that support is an important asset for Israel,” he said.

“I think that it is also important that the world sees this,” he said. “It is very important that the world see this; governments see it and leaders as well.”

Netanyahu, alluding to Canada’s stand at the G8 meeting in France that led to a softening of a resolution over the weekend on the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, said that “on various continents, in various meetings,” matters that were not desirable for Israel were rebuffed.

Netanyahu said he laid out in the US the principles most important to Israel: the demand to recognize the Jewish state; that an agreement will be the end of the conflict; that there be no return to the 1967 lines; that Jerusalem remain united; that the Palestinian refugee problem be solved outside of Israel’s borders; that there be no acceptance of Hamas; and that any solution be achieved through negotiations.

“The public backing in the US for these basic principles is essential,” he said. “We are prepared to be very generous with our neighbors, but we are not prepared to concede on the most basic issues that ensure our existence, including our security and our future as a Jewish state.”

President Shimon Peres, meanwhile, is scheduled to travel to Italy on Wednesday to take part in celebrations marking 150 years since Italy’s unification, a ceremony that will be attended by numerous world leaders, including Abbas.

Sources in the President’s Office said they knew of no plans for Peres to meet with Abbas, or with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who will also be there.

Speculation of a meeting with Abbas follows reports in Ma’ariv that Peres and Abbas met secretly in London recently to try and find a formula to renew talks.

According to a Ma’ariv report on Sunday, Netanyahu was – according to the agreement hammered out between Peres and Abbas – to grant the Palestinians a significant concession in his speech to Congress, but changed his mind following the Hamas- Fatah reconciliation.

The Prime Minister’s Office would only say in response to the report of a Peres-Abbas channel that there was “close coordination” between the prime minister and the president on diplomatic matters.

A spokesman for Peres declined to comment on the reports.

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