Israel braces for fallout from U.N. vote on Palestinian state

“A Palestinian state was established on Netanyahu and Lieberman’s watch,” a senior Israeli official said Nov. 28, a day before the U.N. General Assembly was to vote on a Palestinian bid for recognition as a nonmember observer state.

Israel’s political establishment agrees that the Palestinian bid, which as of press time was expected to pass, constitutes a major defeat for Israel. “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman boasted in the U.N. last year that the ‘moral majority’ of Western states are cooperating with Israel. Now it turns out that the Palestinians not only have an automatic majority, they also have the support of Western countries Israel could not recruit in its favor,” one official said.

On Nov. 28, several Western European nations announced they would support the Palestinian bid for a diplomatic upgrade at the United Nations. Even Australia, a close ally of Israel, was expected to abstain.

Protesters wear masks of (from left) British Prime Minister David Cameron, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Nov. 19 in Brussels. photo/ap-yves logghe

As of press time, countries expected to vote in favor of the Palestinian proposal included France, Denmark, Switzerland, Spain, Malta, Ireland, Portugal, Luxemburg, Sweden and Belgium. Britain and Italy were still undecided. Opposed were the United States, Israel, Canada, the Czech Republic and Germany.

Israel assumes that Western countries were supporting the bid to help bolster Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The international community fears that any weakening of the P.A. might lead to a Hamas takeover of the West Bank — a development that would heighten regional tensions.

Lieberman’s office had called on Israel to respond fiercely to the bid by imposing harsh sanctions on the P.A. in the hopes of toppling Abbas’ government, even suggesting that the Oslo accords be annulled.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said on Nov. 27 that “pro-Palestinian resolutions pass [in the U.N.] every year. Some of them are extreme. Even in the ‘moral majority’ group there are countries that do not vote against these resolutions so as not to lose this majority.

“We were under the assumption that some of these countries would not back the Palestinian [bid], but Operation Pillar of Defense apparently changed the reality. There is a sense that the Europeans want to support Abbas after they criticized Hamas,” the Foreign Ministry official said.

Another top official in Jerusalem leveled harsh criticism at the government’s conduct and at Lieberman’s comments. The official claimed that the stalemate in the peace negotiations hurt Israel’s ability to fight the Palestinians’ U.N. bid.

“Had Israel introduced an initiative or diplomatic plan, it would have been easier for us to demand that [the Western countries] oppose the Palestinian bid,” the Jerusalem official said. “When Lieberman butts heads with Abbas, this is the result.”

The Palestinians may take advantage of their upgraded U.N. status to act against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, particularly with regards to Israeli construction on Palestinian-owned lands in the West Bank. Jerusalem believes the Palestinians will not gain recognition in most international bodies and institutions due to the fact that these institutions rely on U.S. funding. Congress passed a law that requires Washington to stop funneling money to international organizations that recognize any Palestinian state not established within the framework of an agreement with Israel.

An Israeli official said this week’s U.N. vote will usher in a “new reality. It is obvious that Israel is weaker in the international arena. It was unable to recruit even those countries that supported its positions last year.”

Former Foreign Ministry Director-General Uri Savir, one of the chief negotiators of the Oslo accords, said Abbas “had no choice” but to proceed with the U.N. effort. He was weakened, Savir said, by the continued stall in diplomatic negotiations and Hamas’ enhanced position after Operation Pillar of Defense.

“The U.N. bid won’t lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, but it will strengthen him. As far as he is concerned, this keeps the two-state horizon alive,” Savir said.