Palestinians head for UN state showdown

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tours Israel's border with Egypt, in southern Israel (13 Sept 2011) Israel has seen the political landscape rapidly transform around it

Not for the first time this year, Israel finds itself a nervous spectator as tumultuous events in the region around it rapidly change the shape and nature of the Middle East.

The domino-like fall of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, not forgetting the violent turmoil in Syria, caught almost everyone by surprise and, arguably, left Israeli politicians floundering for a coherent policy response.

The Israeli government was criticised in many quarters for its lukewarm response to the Arab Spring - concerns about regional security and the rise of Islamic political parties were perhaps seen as more important than expanding political pluralism in the Middle East.

Justifiable criticism or not, those were events almost exclusively beyond Israeli control and over which it could ultimately have had little or no influence.

The thorny issue of recognition for a Palestinian state is different story.

The right-wing coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it abundantly clear that it opposes "unilateral" Palestinian moves towards statehood, either as a full member of the UN, via the Security Council, or for "Enhanced Observer Member" status, via a majority vote in the General Assembly.

Israel says either option seriously undermines negotiations towards a two-state solution - Israeli and Palestinian states existing side by side - saying that such a course of action will not lead to peace or the establishment of a Palestinian state.

There have also been threats, from Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his deputy Danny Ayalon, that if the Palestinians go to the UN, Israel would consider changing the status of east Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements.

Palestinian UN Statehood Bid

  • Palestinians currently have permanent observer entity status at the UN
  • They are represented by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)
  • Officials now want an upgrade so a state of Palestine has full member status at the UN
  • They seek recognition on 1967 borders - in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza
  • Enhanced observer member status could be an interim option

"If the Palestinians independently take blunt unilateral steps to declare statehood, then all [previous] agreements are nullified," said Mr Ayalon on his Twitter account earlier this week.

Warnings and threats aside, Israel stands accused of doing little to offer the Palestinians a constructive and viable alternative.

The airport limousine services and VIP security details must have been stretched to their limits as a succession of senior US and European diplomats shuttled between Cairo, Jerusalem and Ramallah this week.

The goal of Tony Blair, Catherine Ashton, Dennis Ross and David Hale to extract some genuine concession or initiative from the Israelis that would persuade the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to drop his bid for statehood at the UN and to return to peace talks.

There has been considerable international pressure on the Palestinian side, too, to refrain from the UN option but the Palestinians are confident momentum - and much of the world - is on their side.

Israel's long-established position is that there can be no "pre-conditions" to the resumption of talks and refuses to countenance suggestions that it should stop building in illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land or offer any other concession to Mr Abbas.

Time 'running out'

There has been much analysis in Israel that, as consistent and firm as the position of Mr Netanyahu is, it only serves to increase the country's isolation at a time when Israel is losing friends and supporters in the region.

President Barack Obama The US believes Palestinian statehood should only come through peace talks

Recent difficulties with Egypt and Turkey aside, many Israelis feel their government is being out-manoeuvred by the Palestinian UN initiative and is not coming up with a credible, coherent response.

Israel knows the United States will use its veto in the Security Council to oppose the declaration of a Palestinian state, should it come to that.

And while it will back its strongest ally in the region, Washington would rather not have to use that veto because of the message it would convey in the wider Arab world.

US President Barack Obama has, after all, declared his wish to see the Palestinian flag flying at the UN, albeit as a consequence of successful peace talks with Israel.

That is why, on this occasion, Europe is arguably a more important player than the United States.

If a majority of EU countries - especially the French, Germans and British - support Palestinian recognition at the UN that could make life very uncomfortable for Israel.

The position of European governments is not yet clear - that is what the diplomats are busy finalising this week - but recent polls in Europe suggest their populations strongly support the idea of Palestinian membership at the UN.

Israel's diplomats around the world have been busy too, putting forward arguments against Palestinian upgrading or full recognition at the UN.

An aide to Prime Minister Netanyahu this week told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper: "Israel is not isolated... we should stop the self-flagellation as if we were to blame for everything."

But many senior Israelis are convinced that a return to negotiations with the Palestinians will allay tensions, not only in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Israel but in the region as a whole.

With time running out, what might be required now is a gesture from Israel that can make that a reality and avoid a showdown in New York next week.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    There are 3 Uniteds that have helped to the creation of israel.Together they have helped israel to gradually and eventually sweep through Palestine wiping away any traces of their existance, to the point where there's hardly any land left for palestinians to remain.This is a country that has an endless tail of UN resolutions behind it but still free to do what it does best " STEAL MORE LAND".

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    I say let them have their "State".Then they cant complainand if they do good luck to them - Israel has beaten all of its neighbours when they have been at war with them.Once the state is created it will give the extremists one less agrument and expose them as pure anti-semites as they will say now give us Jerusalem and destroy the Jews, Palestine was and is a myth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    To Gylfa and anyone who shares the same arrogance, Israel needs to get out of all occupied land in Palestine and that's period. how they live, who governs is NONE of Israel's business!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    Gylfa, how many of those times the PLO walked away from talks came after Isreali movements of one kinda or another during on-going talks?

    Why talk about Hamas and ignore the other groups?

    Why ignore that Isreal occupies a large amount of Palestine?

    The issue is so much more complex than suggested with your posts (and mine, for the record).

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    But most of all.Palestine is a terrorist run area that violates human rights,religious freedoms and world peace.It is a financially dependent ,failed socialism that promotes violence and hate.They have publicly and repeatedly call for a genocide of their neighbors.This does not demonstrate a respectful society ready for statehood.


Comments 5 of 249


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