Israel warns of unilateral steps if PA seeks UN statehood

Gov't source says considering reviving Olmert’s “convergence” ideas for a withdrawal from parts of the West Bank.

Netanyahu Abbas 311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
Netanyahu Abbas 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel will pursue its own unilateral steps if the Palestinians do not return to the negotiating table and instead seek UN support for unilateral moves to declare a state within the pre- 1967 lines, a government source told The Jerusalem Post late Thursday night.
“If the Palestinians think that unilateral moves are a one-way street, they are sadly mistaken. It is an option that both sides have,” said the source.
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There was some speculation that Israel may be considering reviving aspects of former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s “convergence” ideas for a unilateral withdrawal from isolated parts of the West Bank, evacuating settlements and deploying soldiers there instead. But there was no official confirmation on Thursday night of any such plans and a settler source dismissed the notion as nonsense.
Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, begun in early September, were suspended on September 26 when Israel did not renew its 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction.
On Thursday, the PA reiterated that it would only come back to the talks if the freeze were revived, and concern is growing in Jerusalem that the Palestinians are tilting increasingly toward unilateral moves.
The government source told the Post that “Israel is against unilateral steps. Israel believes that all problems should be solved around the negotiating table, but if the Palestinians choose unilateral steps, they can expect Israel to respond in kind.”
On Wednesday night, indeed, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel needed to show sincerity in the negotiations but it also needed to have a well-developed back-up plan. He spoke in Jerusalem at an event organized by the Jewish People Policy Institute.
Hours later, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not be solved through unilateral moves. “There is no substitute for face-to-face discussion and, ultimately, for an agreement that leads to a just and lasting peace,” Clinton said.
Israel is said to be exploring a number of unilateral options, but the source would not specify which.
Other reportedly mooted ideas include the possibility that Israel would no longer seek an “end of conflict” declaration from the Palestinians — which would presumably lower the price of a non-final deal. The Palestinians would get a state in most of the West Bank, with international safeguards about a future deal, but decisions on Jerusalem and refugees would be put off.
The Palestinians are said to adamantly reject any such scenario, fearing that they would lose any further leverage and end up with a mini-state.
Former Meretz party head Yossi Beilin said on Thursday, however, that the PA could be persuaded that this is the only way to achieve statehood. “It is better to have something than to have nothing,” he told The Associated Press.
Likud Minister Yuli Edelstein said that warnings of possible Israeli unilateral moves were most likely part of the ongoing psychological warfare with the Palestinians. The common wisdom in the government has been to oppose such moves, he said.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and former defense minister Moshe Arens are calling for the West Bank to be annexed and the Palestinians there eventually offered full citizenship — moves that would take Israel a long way toward becoming a binational state.
Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians continued to rise on Thursday in the wake of a report by AP that construction had begun on 550 new homes since the moratorium expired.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process Robert H. Serry said he was dismayed by the report. “Reports detailing the commencement of hundreds of new Israeli settlement housing units in the occupied Palestinian territory since the 26 September expiry of Israel’s moratorium are alarming,” he said.
According to AP, at 550 new housing starts, settlers are building at a rate four time faster than in other years. But this report did not take into account the absence of any new housing starts for the last 10 months as a result of the moratorium.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 2,000 new homes have been built per year, on average, over the past decade, in West Bank settlements.
In 2009, for example, work was begun on 1,888 homes over the 11 months before the freeze took effect. In 2008, work was begun on 2,107 new homes.
A government source told the Post that the planned construction in the West Bank is “minimal and will in no way affect the final contours of a peace agreement between us and the Palestinians.”
A settler source said that AP and Peace Now had inflated the figures, which were half of what was reported.
AP, Khaled Abu Toameh and Hilary Krieger contributed to this report.