NEW YORK – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday worked to shore up support for Israel’s opposition to the Palestinian unilateral bid for recognition of statehood, by holding meetings with world leaders in New York on the sidelines of the opening session of the 66th UN General Assembly meeting.
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The Palestinians have an automatic majority of support for statehood in the General Assembly, but Israel has managed to gain support against the measure in the Security Council, and may be able to secure a delay in the process.
Although the Palestinian Authority still plans to submit a request for full membership of a state to the Security Council on Thursday, on Wednesday a senior Palestinian official said that it would give the council time to study the application.
“We will give some time to the Security Council to consider first our full-membership request before heading to the General Assembly,” Nabil Sha’ath
, a senior official in PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, told reporters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said in contrast that the PA wouldn’t accept any delay.
Although the United States plans, if necessary, to veto the membership request at the Security Council, Israel has sought to avoid the need for a veto by convincing seven of the council’s 15 members to either vote against the proposal or to abstain.
It also hopes that pressure from the US and other countries, including European ones, will prevent the Palestinians from asking the General Assembly later in the session for an upgrade in status to that of observer nation. Such a move would give them de facto recognition of statehood.
Either way, it appears that the drama of hearing speeches by Abbas and Netanyahu on the issue at the General Assembly on Friday will not be immediately followed by any kind of a vote.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu met with US President Barack Obama, Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The prime minister was so busy holding meetings that he was not present for Obama’s speech to the General Assembly, and instead sat with the president of Columbia during that time.
Netanyahu only read the text of Obama’s speech, which spoke against a unilateral Palestinian statehood bid, toward the end of his face-to-face meeting with Obama.
“In the presence of the president, the prime minister was able to look at the part of the text that dealt with Israel, the negotiations and the peace process with the Palestinians,” Ambassador to the US Michael Oren told the media.
“The prime minister reacted with deep satisfaction to the contents of the speech,” Oren said. He added that the meeting was warm and positive.
In their public comments at the start of the meeting, Netanyahu thanked Obama for his support.
“I want to thank you, Mr. President, for standing with Israel and supporting peace through direct negotiations,” he said.
“We both agree that Palestinians and the Israelis should sit down together and negotiate an agreement of mutual recognition and security. I think this is the only way to get to a stable and durable peace.
“You’ve also made it clear that the Palestinians deserve a state, but it’s a state that has to make that peace with Israel, and therefore their attempt to shortcut this process, not negotiate peace, that attempt to get state membership in the United Nations will not succeed,” the prime minister said.
“I think the Palestinians want to achieve a state in the international community, but they’re not prepared yet to give peace to Israel in return,” Netanyahu said.
He said he hoped other world leaders would follow the US example, and oppose such unilateral measures, which were “bad for Israel, bad for the Palestinians and bad for peace.”
Netanyahu told Obama that his principled opposition in support of peace was a “badge of honor.”
“I want to thank you for wearing that badge of honor and also to express my hope that others will follow your example, Mr. President,” he said.
Obama in turn said, “The bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security is unbreakable.
“It’s fair to say that today our security cooperation is stronger than it has ever been,” he said.
In reference to his speech to the General Assembly, Obama said, “As I just indicated, peace cannot be imposed on the parties.
It’s going to have to be negotiated. One-sided declarations in the United Nations will achieve neither statehood nor self-determination for the Palestinians, but Israelis and Palestinians sitting down together and working through these very difficult issues that have kept the parties apart for decades now...
the ultimate goal of all of us, which is two states, side by side, living in peace and security,” he said.
“America’s commitment to Israel will never waiver and our pursuit of a just and lasting peace is one that is, not only compatible, but we think puts Israel’s security at the forefront,” Obama said.
As the two men spoke, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the media that he was pleased by Obama’s words to the General Assembly, and that his statement was something that he would stamp with approval with both hands.
Lieberman called on the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel and said he hoped that even they had begun to understand that it was not in their best interest to unilaterally pursue statehood.
He warned, however, that should they continue down that path, Israel should consider taking harsh measures against them, but he did not define what those were.Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.