Barak: Palestinian UN bid must be delayed

Following Obama's victory, defense minister says stopping PA bid for UN status upgrade a joint US and Israeli interest.

Ehud Barak Gestures 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Ehud Barak Gestures 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Israel and the US must delay Palestinian unilateral statehood moves at the UN until after the Israeli elections, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Wednesday night.
He spoke on Channel 10 hours after US President Barack Obama was elected to a second four-year term.
“We have a joint interest, ours and theirs, to delay the Palestinian UN bid for nonmember state,” he said. “This has to be done now, immediately.”
Barak was not the only politician and diplomat whose thoughts immediately turned to the frozen Israel Palestinian peace talks, immediately upon hearing of Obama’s victory.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon immediately issued a congratulatory statement, which said there were many challenges ahead, including “getting the Middle East peace process back on track.”
Speaking with reporters in Tel Aviv that morning United States Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said that his country believed both sides should resume direct negotiations.
“We think they [the PA] should be at the negotiating table, not trying to resolve conflicts through unilateral measures or going to the UN. That is an interest that we share with Israel,” Shapiro said.
The International Quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East peace process, Tony Blair, echoed the importance of resumed talks, but was not as clear about his positions regarding the Palestinians’ UN bid.
He said that Obama’s victory, “gives us a great opportunity actually to re-energize this process and to try to make sure that we get back around the table and have a negotiation, and that is the best and only way to try and create peace.”
Blair spoke during a Jerusalem meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who in the last week has publicly called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table without pre-conditions.
To date, Abbas has insisted that he plans to turn later this month to the UN General Assembly to upgrade the Palestinian status there to that of a non-member state, whose boundaries are at the pre-1967 lines.
It’s a move that is seen as a de-facto declaration of statehood.
It also grants Palestinians more rights at the UN, as well as possibly the ability to pursue Israelis at the International Court of Justice.
Netanyahu told Blair, “I have a constant suggestion which I renew today – I said it two days ago, I’m saying it again today. I think the best thing to do is to sit down together, negotiate without preconditions, avoid unilateral actions in the UN and try to get on with peace. That’s my suggestion to President Abbas, I hope you can help me with this.”
Abbas has said he would only talk with Israel once it recognizes a Palestinian state at the pre-1967 lines or after the UN General Assembly approves that language as part of an upgrade in the Palestinian status to non-member state.
Abbas has warned that if this does not happen soon, it might no longer be possible to arrive at a two-state solution.
In an interview with Reuters, Blair said that he understood Palestinian frustration, but dismissed suggestions that, with more than 500,000 Israelis now living on land seized in the 1967 war, the two-state solution was dead.
“Is it very fashionable at the moment to say the two-state solution is not going to work?” he asked.
“Just examine the alternative for a moment. What does a one-state solution mean? It means you institutionalize conflict right at the heart of whatever that state might look like,” he said.
Blair declined to endorse or condemn the Palestinian’s UN bid, but warned against hasty reactions.
“We have to understand the position the Palestinians find themselves in. It is all about the credibility of the steps towards statehood. It is very much in our interests to offer them a way forward that allows us one way or another to get back to the negotiating table.”
He added, “I don’t think there has been any change in President Obama’s view, which is that it is in the strategic interest of the United States and the world that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is found.”
Shapiro confirmed that view in his talk with reporters on the sidelines of a panel discussion at the Institute for National Security Studies. Resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict, he said, “has always been a priority of the US as it has been a priority of Israel and of the Palestinians, and of the Europeans and Arabs to try and address this conflict,” he said.
“We will continue to try and address it through direct negotiations. That is the only way it can be addressed, so I am certain we will continue to look for opportunities to bring the parties together and try to resolve the conflict together, through direct negotiations,” Shapiro said.
Separately, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Wednesday commented on Israel’s continued plans to build Jewish homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“I am very concerned regarding the tenders for the construction of more than 1,000 new housing units in Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem.
“Our clear expectation directed towards all sides in the Middle East is to refrain from anything that makes the resumption of negotiations more difficult.
As the whole of the EU, we share the view that the settlement policy is a hindrance to the peace process,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.