J'lem seeks support to dilute meaning of PA UN bid

In final hours ahead of UNGA's expected move to upgrade status of Palestinian delegation, Israel scrambling to convince countries to issue statement with vote, explaining that move is confined to UN system.

Palestinian flag Abbas speech_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Palestinian flag Abbas speech_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
In the final hours before the UN General Assembly is expected to upgrade the Palestinian delegation to a non-member-state observer status, Jerusalem shifted from trying to convince countries to oppose the move toward getting some to abstain or issue a statement diluting the significance of their yes vote.
“What is very important for us now is that as many countries as possible that have not already bilaterally recognized a Palestinian state submit an explanation with their vote [saying] it is a political statement confined to the UN system, and does not constitute true recognition of an actual state in Palestine,” one senior diplomatic official said.
The idea is to get as many states as possible to elaborate that this is a vote for a change of the Palestinian status within the UN system, but not outside it, he explained.
The official said Jerusalem was in contact with numerous countries encouraging them to add an explanation to their vote by saying that a Palestinian state on the ground would have to come through negotiations with Israel.
The US, adamantly opposed to the step because of a fear that it will set the diplomatic process back and make it more difficult to restart negotiations, continued to try and get the Palestinian Authority to drop the bid. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and US Middle East envoy David Hale met in New York on Wednesday with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in a last-ditch effort to dissuade him from the move.
Opinion in Jerusalem was split over whether Abbas would offer to negotiate with Israel after the resolution was passed.
While some diplomatic officials argued that this “victory” would give Abbas the “ladder” to “come off the tree and back to the negotiating table,” others argued that Abbas’s comments to the effect that he would negotiate with Israel after the resolution was passed were made only to win the votes of the Europeans.
They said that PA spokesmen had already repeated their preconditions of a complete settlement freeze before talks can begin, something Israel has long rejected.
Over the past few days, Israeli diplomats have seen their hopes fade of building a block of 40-50 “quality” nations that would either abstain or vote against the resolution. France’s announcement on Tuesday that it was going to support the move ended hopes that perhaps the EU would reach a consensus and abstain on the matter.
Spain, Denmark and Ireland, as well as Switzerland, which is not in the EU, announced they would support the move.
According to assessments in Jerusalem, they will likely be joined by Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden inside the EU.
The US, Canada, Germany, the Czech Republic and some South Pacific island states are expected to oppose the move.
Inside the EU, the abstentions are likely to come from The Netherlands, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia.
Britain has said it will abstain unless the Palestinians commit to not taking Israelis to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on war crimes charges, and pledge to begin negotiations immediately. The Palestinians so far have refused to make those commitments.
Other countries expected to abstain are Australia and South Korea in the Far East; Togo, Uganda and South Sudan in Africa; and Panama and Colombia in Latin America.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor will address the General Assembly after Abbas presents the resolution. It is not clear who else will speak, although the foreign ministers of Turkey, Indonesia and Canada are expected to be in the hall. One diplomatic official said that if Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks on behalf of the resolution, Canada’s John Baird, a staunch supporter of Israel, will speak against it.
One Israeli official said that the “minute the resolution passes,” Israel “will be ready with our response.”
“We see this as a violation of previous agreements and will respond in a way that is proportionate to the Palestinian move,” said the official.
The vote is expected to take place at about 11 p.m. Israel time.
In recent weeks, following appeals by the US and other international players not to respond in an overly harsh manner that would make a future return to negotiations even more difficult, Israel has moved from suggestions that it immediately annul the Oslo Accords and annex the large settlement blocs, to “tamer” measures, such as deducting money from taxes collected on behalf of the PA to cover the estimated NIS 800 million owed to the Israeli Electric Cooperation.
Jerusalem’s current position is that it will wait to see what actions Abbas takes after gaining the upgraded status before implementing drastic measures. If, for instance, he would decide to try and take Israelis to the ICC on war crimes charges, it would be something that could elicit a harsher Israeli reaction.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has in recent weeks spoken to numerous colleagues asking them not to support the measure.
Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, characterized the move on Wednesday as “political theater that won’t change anything substantive on the ground.”
“The Palestinians may well celebrate their victory for one night, but when they wake up in the morning they will once again see that nothing has changed on the ground, and that there is no substitute for direct negotiations with Israel. That is the only real path to peaceful reconciliation and Palestinian statehood,” he said.
According to Regev, the Palestinians want the statehood designation as a “superior platform to continue their conflict against Israel, and they should not be surprised when Israel refuses to go along.”