IN THE RUN-UP TO THE ANTICIPATED UN recognition of Palestinian statehood in
September , Israeli diplomacy is focused as never before on Europe. Having given
up any hope of defeating a General Assembly Resolution on Palestine, Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’ s strategy is to dilute its
The aim is to get as many democracies as possible to vote
against and to create what Israeli diplomats are calling a “moral minority
T o this end Europe, with 27 democracies in the EU and another 17 on
the periphery , is crucial.
“There is no possible configuration in which
Israel wins the vote,” a senior aide to the prime minister tells The Report.
“But if we have a situation like we did after the UN Human Rights Council’ s
Goldstone Report on the IDF’ s Gaza operation, we will be able to say a majority
of democratic countries refused to support a one-sided resolution.
we can get that ‘moral minority ,’ then the resolution will be reduced to
nothing more than another UN anti-Israel piece of paper .”
to win the European vote is being led by Netanyahu himself. Since early April,
he has been to Berlin, Prague, Paris, London and Rome, and is now planning
further visits to Sofia, Bucharest, W arsaw and Budapest. His message to the
Europeans has been blunt: a hardline UN resolution enshrining the 1967 borders,
he warns, will kill the peace process.
His argument is that no
Palestinian leader will then be able to accept anything less – even though
everyone knows, and the Palestinians themselves have already agreed, that, in
any feasible peace treaty , the 1967 lines will have to be changed. “It will
have the same ef fect as the 1948 UN General Assembly Resolution 194 had on the
refugee issue,” the Netanyahu aide insists. “Everyone understands that in a
peace treaty Palestinian refugees will return to Palestine not to Israel. But
because of 194 you have a situation in which no Palestinian leader is ready to
say so in public.”
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In contrast to Netanyahu, however , there are those
who believe UN recognition of a Palestinian state is the only way to save the
They argue that it could set the parameters for viable
state-to-state negotiations on a final peace treaty .
They also maintain
that it could be a life-saver for Israel, creating an opening for the two-state
solution it needs to secure the Zionist project of a Jewish and democratic state, and avoiding the slide towards further
delegitimization and isolation it might otherwise face.
left-wingers and the government agree is that the key to the diplomatic outcome
in September lies in Europe.
While Netanyahu is investing huge amounts of
diplomatic ener gy to persuade European governments to vote against Palestinian
statehood, a small but prestigious group of left-wing intellectuals, academics,
writers, civil servants, ex-politicians and former diplomats is ur ging the
Europeans to do precisely the opposite. In late May , they published an open
letter and accompanying press release calling on European leaders to recognize
Palestinian statehood in September and they followed up by sending copies of the letter to European ambassadors in Israel.
THE REASON THE
SMALL GROUP is making waves is because of the caliber of the people involved and
the desperation inherent in the move.
Among the signatories are former
Knesset speaker A vrum Bur g; former attorney general Michael BenY air; former
Civil Service commissioner Y itzhak Galnoor; former Foreign Ministry director
general Alon Liel; former ambassador to South Africa Ilan Baruch; Nobel
Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman; Israel Prize-winning economist Menachem
Y a’ari, a former president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities;
Israel prize-winning philosophers A vishai Mar galit and Y irmiyahu Y ovel;
Moshe Halbertal coauthor of the IDF ethical code; and novelists Lea Aini, Iris
Leal, Nir Baram and Ronit Matalon.
All stand to take flack from the
Israeli public for ostensibly supporting Palestinian goals and appealing to
outsiders to help undermine the policies of the elected
Complicating matters further is the fact that some of the
Europeans are flexing their newfound diplomatic muscle.
Aware of Israel’
s concern over the European vote, the French have been pressuring Netanyahu to
go along with a plan to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks or face the
prospect of France and other key European players voting with the Palestinians
in September .
The left-wingers’ letter was published in the French daily
“Le Monde” a few days after what the authors call Netanyahu’ s “horror show” in
the US Congress in late May .
They ar gue that in his speech to the
American lawmakers, the prime minister ef fectively cut of f any chance of
further peace negotiations and they accuse him of sustaining a hollow semblance
of a peace process as a diversionary tactic to maintain the status
Unless something happens to break the deadlock, there will be a
further outbreak of violence that could spill over into Europe too, they warn.
In their view , the one practical step that could fundamentally change things is
international recognition of Palestinian statehood. “In the face of endless
procrastination and mutual distrust, a declaration of Palestinian independence
is not only legitimate, but also a positive and constructive step for the
benefit of the two nations,” their letter states.
Alon Liel, the former
Foreign Ministry director general and one of the more active members of the
group, says he has already spoken to approximately one-third of the European
ambassadors in Israel, mostly at their initiative. He ar gues that the current
Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are incapable of delivering an agreement on
their own: The Israeli government has shifted its positions too far to the right
and the Palestinians are “in bed” with Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel.
“The parties have ef fectively outsourced the conflict.
And because the
Americans have proved so inept, Europe has become the key ,” he tells The Report
According to Liel, there are three distinct blocs in Europe on the
recognition issue: The northern bloc, mainly the Scandinavian countries, which
will vote for a Palestinian state come what may; the eastern bloc, emer ging
eastern European democracies that are set to vote against; and the influential
western European bloc which is still undecided. “This is the group that could
push others into voting for , against or abstaining.
They are the ones
who will decide the outcome,” he opines.
In Liel’ s view , widely-backed
UN recognition of a Palestinian state will serve Israel’ s interests because it
will make clear where the international community stands on the twostate model
Israel needs for its long-term survival. It will also send a message to both
parties that they cannot go on behaving irrationally in defiance of the entire
international community .
Equally important, it will serve as a wakeup
call for the Israeli public. “They need to understand that the government’ s
policy of trying to get everything – united Jerusalem, a military presence along
the Jordan River , Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the
settlements blocs and more – will not work. Only a sharp signal from the
international community is likely to drive this home,” he insists.
the main ar guments against UN recognition of a Palestinian state, made also on
the wider Israeli left, is that it will lead to heavy international pressure on
Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines, without Israeli input, first on borders
and security , and then on Jerusalem and refugees. Liel, however , is unfazed:
“I hope that if there is such pressure on Israel, it will agree to negotiate,
bring in the US, and together reach a more realistic formula as far as Israel is
concerned,” he asserts.
SURPRISINGLY, HIS ARGUMENTS echo a growing
strain of centrist thinking dubbed “coordinated
Unilateralists like Haifa University’ s Dan Schueftan and
Reut think-tank president Gidi Grinstein ar gue that, given the current
leaderships on both sides, a negotiated settlement is impossible, and the only way forward is through coordinated unilateral moves.
Grinstein’s view, that is precisely what the UN recognition of a Palestinian
state ought to be and, in a late May article in “Haaretz,” he argued that if it
is treated as such, the benefits for Israel could be substantial: It would anchor the principle of two states for two peoples; leave Israel control ling security assets in and around the new state; shape the contours of a
permanent solution and diminish the refugee problem.
Instead of opposing
Palestinian statehood in September , the Americans should facilitate it in a way
that “conforms to Israel’ s needs,” Grinstein wrote.
Where Liel’ s
left-wing group receives virtually no mainstream support is in its appeal for
outside help against the government of the day . Ilan Baruch, like Liel a former
ambassador to South Africa, ar gues that they were left with little choice. His
basic assumption is that unless there is a diplomatic breakthrough soon, Israel
is heading for a completely gratuitous round of violence, which would be a
direct consequence of the government’ s inflexibility .
And since the
Kadimaled parliamentary opposition is far too weak to force a change in course,
there is a crying need for extra-parliamentary activity and outside help to
produce what Baruch calls “the Archimedean lever” that could set a genuine
negotiating process in train.
Baruch resigned from the Foreign Ministry
in March insisting that he could no longer “honestly represent” the government
because of its failure to recognize that the perception of Israel as an
occupying power is leading to its isolation as a pariah state.
notes that, unlike all his immediate predecessors, Netanyahu studiously avoids
using the word “occupation.” “In his speech to Congress he used the phrase
‘parts of the national homeland’ and specifically said we are not
occupiers. That is more than a semantic dif ference. It reflects a different world view,” he asserts.
To prevent what he sees as the dire
consequences of this approach, Baruch insists that people who care deeply about
Israel’ s future have every right to appeal for outside help. Moreover , he
maintains, the Israeli right has no compunction about using foreign players –
American evangelists and rich American Jews like Irving Moskowitz or Sheldon
Adelson – to achieve its political goals, and that to ar gue that the left
shouldn’ t approach the international community is to apply a double
Baruch, who lost an eye in the 1968-1970 war of attrition,
insists that the left-wingers are acting out of profound Zionist motives in what
they believe are the state’s best interests. “Netanyahu and I were both
born in Jerusalem in 1949. We are both Israeli patriots. I was
wounded in battle and have given as much of myself to the country as he has,” he
The demonstrative left-wing actions in favor of Palestinian
statehood began in April, when a group, including 17 Israel Prize winners,
publicly endorsed a petition calling for Palestinian independence outside the T
el A viv hall where David Ben-Gurion had proclaimed Israel’ s independence in
Then, on the eve of Netanyahu’ s W ashington visit in May ,
many of the same people were part of a lar ger group of 90 Israelis, now
including 18 retired generals, 27 Israel Prize laureates, five former senior
diplomats and five current or former university presidents, who, backed by the
dovish American J Street, signed a full page ad in “The New Y o rk T imes”
calling on “any person seeking peace and liberty and upon all nations to join us
in welcoming the Palestinian Declaration of Independence and to support the ef
forts of the citizens of the two states to maintain peaceful relations on the
basis of secure borders and good neighborliness.”
Ten days later, after
what they saw as Netanyahu’ s disappointing speech in Congress, 21 members of
the group, many of them Jerusalem-based supporters of the Sheikh Jarrah
Solidarity Movement, published the appeal to the Europeans.
followed up by a mass rally of the much wider politically or ganized left in
early June, with an estimated 10,000 marching from Rabin Square to the T el A
viv Museum in support of a Palestinian state. Participating groups included the
“Derech” faction in Kadima, the Labor , Meretz, Hadash and Ra’am-T a’al parties,
Combatants for Peace, the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement and Gush
Marchers carried banners reading: “Palestinian state – an Israeli
B UT OPINION ON THE LEFT OVER the potential benefit for Israel
of a UN vote in favor of Palestinian statehood is sharply divided. Many who
disagree with the former diplomats and Israel Prize winners ar gue that it is
more likely to hurt Israel internationally than to break the political
“It could lead to diplomatic isolation, international
intervention in the conflict both on the diplomatic and the legal levels. It
worries me a great deal.
And I don’ t even want to think about hundreds
of thousands of Palestinians taking a cue from events in the Arab world and
marching inside Israel,” Meretz’ s Zahava Gal-On, one of the main speakers at
the rally, tells The Report
Gal-On says the aim of the rally was to
put pressure on Netanyahu to accept a Palestinian state and enter negotiations
on its parameters before the issue reaches the UN. She also opposes the approach
to the Europeans. “I don’t want to criticize initiatives or actions of others.
But the arena for our activities is within Israeli society. And I see my
role as putting public pressure on the Israeli government to recognize a
Palestinian state,” she declares.
During a visit to Israel and the West
Bank in early June, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe outlined his plan for
restarting the stalled peace process.
There would be a peace conference
in Paris to mark a resumption of negotiations on the establishment of two states
for two peoples on the basis of the 1967 lines with land swaps; borders and
security would be discussed first, Jerusalem and refugees later , with the aim
of achieving a full-fledged permanent peace deal in a year; in the interim,
neither side would take unilateral steps – the Palestinians would not go to the
UN in September and Israel would not build in the settlements.
French message to Israel was: Support our package or we might vote for
Palestinian statehood in September .
The French ideas are not very dif
ferent from those outlined by US President Barack Obama and the Americans prefer
to keep control of the process themselves. So when Juppe went to W ashington to
present his plan, US Secretary of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was less
Instead, the Americans are consulting with both
parties in an attempt to come up with a package of their own that will convince
the Palestinians to drop their UN gambit, or , at the very least, elicit enough
Israeli goodwill to persuade the French and other key European players to vote
against Palestinian statehood in September . However , American of ficials
complain that Netanyahu is giving them virtually nothing to go on and their
Israeli counterparts confirm that the chances of restarting peace talks before
September are slim. “As long as Hamas is part of the Palestinian government, we
are not going to see a restart to the peace process,” the Netanyahu aide tells
The end result could be a collapse of Netanyahu’ s European
strategy , with France and Britain leading a sizable European vote for
Palestinian statehood in September .
The question then will be whether
that forces serious state-to-state negotiations as some of the left-wingers
hope, or whether it accelerates a process of international isolation for Israel,
accompanied by mass protests and possible violence, as others fear .
consequences for Israel and the Palestinians could be historic.
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