PM: Cooperation with US best since Obama took office

Netanyahu tells cabinet PA statehood bid will fail; in NY, Barak meets Fayyad, Quartet envoys hold talks.

By
September 19, 2011 02:54
Netanyahu speaks at Sunday's cabinet meeting

Netanyahu cabinet meeting 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

Israeli-US cooperation over the past four months has been better than any other time since President Barack Obama came into office in January 2009, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Likud ministers at a meeting on Sunday.

Netanyahu, according to one source at the meeting, said that diplomatic coordination with Washington has “been excellent” in the run-up to the UN General Assembly meeting this week and the Palestinian Authority’s move to go to the Security Council and seek full UN membership.



The Palestinians were surprised by the level of opposition they had come up against from the US to their UN gambit, the prime minister said.

Israel was not – as many believe – isolated in North America, Europe, Africa or
Latin America, he said.

Still, diplomatic officials said US attempts to avoid having to use its veto in the UN Security Council by getting seven states on the 15-member body to either vote against or abstain on a Palestinian statehood resolution remained a long shot.

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The Palestinian resolution will fail if one of the five permanent members – the US, Britain, France, Russia and China – casts its veto and votes against the resolution, or if the resolution does not muster support from at least nine countries.

Among the countries still in play on the Security Council, according to Israeli officials, are Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Gabon and Nigeria.

The countries who are expected to vote for the resolution are India, Brazil, South Africa, Lebanon, China and Russia.

The US has made clear it will cast its veto, but is lobbying intensively in the Security Council to ensure that it doesn’t have to.

One Israeli official, however, said it was unlikely the US would convince enough states on the Council to block the motion, simply because the other countries – even if opposed to the move because of concern that it could stymie the diplomatic process for years – know that since the US won’t let it pass, they might as well win points with the Arab and nonaligned world by voting for a declaration that will surely be extreme popular on the Arab street.

Even as the US was intensively lobbying the other Security Council members, envoys from the Quartet – the US, EU, Russia and UN – met in New York to continue trying to put together a formula that would enable restarting negotiations.

The formula being discussed now is similar to the one that the Quartet could not reach agreement on in July: namely, that in return for an Israeli agreement, with reservations, to go to negotiations on the basis of the June 4, 1967, lines, with agreed-upon land swaps, the Palestinians would recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

If Sunday evening’s Quartet meeting makes progress, then the Quartet principals – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon – would be expected to meet in the next day or two and hammer out a deal.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, one of six cabinet ministers who will pass through New York this week to lobby against the PA move, met in the city on Sunday with PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who has spoken out in the past against the Palestinian gambit.

Likud ministers and MKs called upon Netanyahu not to make concessions, speaking at a pre-Rosh Hashana toast hosted by Vice Premier Silvan Shalom at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Sunday.

“Netanyahu should stand strong for the Likud ideology and the principles we believe in,” Shalom said. “When he goes to New York, he represents all of us and the majority of the people in Israel who demand that he maintain all of the land and protect Israel’s vital interests.

Only a government faithful to its principles and will not zigzag will get the support of the world, and respect from the entire Arab world. If we go on this path, we will be able to stop the Palestinian bid in the UN.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu said unequivocally at the weekly cabinet meeting that the Palestinian “attempt to be accepted as a member of the UN will fail.

The Palestinians’ attempt to be accepted as a member of the UN is what they declared – one year ago – as their objective; this is what Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] recently declared as a goal. This attempt will fail.

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“It will fail because it must go through the UN Security Council. Decisions that are binding on UN members pass through the Security Council. I am convinced that the activity of the US, which is deeply cooperating with us, as well as the activity of other governments with which we are also cooperating, will result in the failure of this attempt.”

At the same time, Netanyahu also said it was clear that the proposal – blocked in the Security Council – would pass in the General Assembly, but this “has neither the same weight nor the same importance” as a Security Council resolution. As a result of efforts coordinated with the US and other “important countries,” it was not even clear the Palestinians will get whatever they want from the General Assembly either, he said.

The prime minister, who deliberated for weeks before announcing on Thursday that he would represent Israel at the UN parley, said, “The UN is not a place where Israel wins praise, but I think that it is important that I go there in order to represent both the State of Israel and the truth – and the truth is that Israel wants peace, and the truth is that the Palestinians are doing everything to torpedo direct peace negotiations.

Netanyahu, who said that the Palestinians had ignored all initiatives he had taken to push the process forward, including last year’s 10-month settlement construction freeze, reiterated his position that despite the “current attempt to again overturn the negotiations by going to the UN, peace will be achieved only through direct negotiations.

“My UN trip will have a double goal,” he said. “The first goal is to ensure that this move to bypass negotiations does not succeed and is stopped in the Security Council. I think that this is, to a great extent, an achievable objective. The second goal is to address the General Assembly and present our truth and – in my opinion – the general truth, which is our desire for peace.”

The prime minister said his government was “ready to enter into peace negotiations with our Palestinian neighbors, if they so desire. In my opinion, after the dust settles and after everything that is happening at the UN, in the end, the Palestinians – I hope – will come to their senses and will shelve these moves that are designed to bypass negotiations. They will return to the table in order to achieve peace and security both for us and our neighbors.”

The prime minister, who will be addressing the General Assembly for the second time since taking office in 2009, said he would say “loud and clear” that Jews were not interlopers in Israel, and had rights that went back “‘only’ 4,000 years.”

Netanyahu’s first speech to the UN during this tenure came just days after the release of the UN’s Goldstone Committee report in 2009 that lambasted Israel for Operation Cast Lead, and his speech then pushed back hard against that document. He also focused on the Iranian nuclear threat.

This time, however, Netanyahu’s speech – which will go through numerous drafts before the prime minister delivers it in New York on Friday – will focus on the Palestinian issue, and what officials in the Prime Minister’s Office refer to as the “justness of Israel’s cause.”

Government officials said the speech would be geared toward a number of different audiences. It will be geared toward Israel’s friends, to set out for them what Israel has done for peace and what it wants to do; it will be geared to those in the international community who it is believed can still be influenced in their voting; and it will be geared to the Palestinians and the Arab world for whom the message will be that what Israel seeks is a real peace, one based on Israel’s legitimacy and security needs.

In addition, the speech will also touch on Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to speak in the UN the day before Netanyahu – as well as address the hopes and challenges of the Arab Spring.

While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is widely expected to use part of his speech to slam Israel, Netanyahu is not expected to address the current Turkish crisis directly, with Israel believing that the crisis with Ankara will only be solved quietly.

In a related development, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told a conference of donor countries to the PA meeting in New York Sunday that if the Palestinians did indeed go through with a unilateral step at the UN, Israel would no longer see itself bound by the Oslo Accords. One of the unstated results of this would be to place in jeopardy the NIS 3 billion-NIS 5.5b. in customs and tax revenues that Israel transfers to the PA under the Oslo Accords each year.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.


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