By Barak Ravid
Israeli ambassadors around the world were instructed to deliver a message to the presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers of the countries in which they serve, stating Israel will consider partial or full cancellation of the Oslo Accords if the United Nations General Assembly adopts the resolution to upgrade the status of Palestine to that of a non-member observer state in the organization.
The vote on the Palestinian proposal will take place on November 29, the anniversary of the vote in the UN approving the Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) announced on Monday in a meeting with the foreign ministers of the Arab League in Cairo. The Partition Plan was to replace the British Mandate over Palestine with two national states, one Jewish and one Arab. In 1977, the United Nations recognized November 29 as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
If the General Assembly votes on the issue, the Palestinians are expected to win a large majority, with about 150 of the 193 member nations voting for the proposal. As opposed to the decisions of the UN Security Council, General Assembly decisions cannot be vetoed. In practice, the only side who can delay or prevent the vote on the Palestinian status upgrade are the Abbas and the Palestinians themselves. The Israel effort will focus on enlisting as many countries and world leaders as possible to pressure Abbas and deter him from completing the move in the UN, said a senior official in the Israeli Foreign Ministry who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject.
However, the likelihood of Abbas agreeing to halt the process is quite low, especially as the telephone conversation Abbas had with U.S. President Barack Obama did not deter him, said sources in the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office. “Despite everything, we are continuing to act and try,” said the senior Foreign Ministry official.
On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry and sent an urgent cable to all Israeli representatives around the world, asking ambassadors to deliver a number of messages to senior officials in those countries as soon as possible. “You are asked immediately at the beginning of the work week to contact the foreign ministry, prime minister’s office, national security adviser or president’s office and request to do all possible to halt the Palestinian initiative because of its far-reaching consequences,” the cable to the ambassadors said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman held three days of meetings in Vienna with the Israeli ambassadors to the European Union nations, and the cable to all ambassadors was sent out on Sunday at the end of the meetings. Lieberman, who spent over 12 hours with the ambassadors over the weekend, told them they must respond harshly to the Palestinian initiative in the UN, up to and including forcing the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. But Lieberman did say: “Under no circumstances can we harm the Palestinian civilian population.”
During the discussion with the ambassadors, Lieberman presented a list of possible steps to punish the Palestinians, such as stopping the transfer of tax money Israel collects for the PA, canceling the Oslo Accords, or canceling the Israeli work permits of thousands of Palestinian workers. A source in the Foreign Ministry said it was clear to all the participants that Israel is in a complicated position. “Almost any step we take in response to the initiative in the United Nations will also harm the Palestinian populace and also harm Israel’s interests,” said the official.
The cable to the embassies was signed by the head of the ministry’s division for international organizations, ambassador Roni Leshno-Yaar, who leads the militant policy in the Foreign Ministry in all matters related to the Israeli attempts to block the Palestinian initiative in the United Nations. The cable was approved Lieberman and ministry director general Rafi Barak.
“The Palestinian resolution is a clear violation of the fundamental principle of negotiations,” wrote Leshno-Yaar, “and is a violation of the agreements between Israel and the PLO. The adoption of the resolution will give Israel the right to re-evaluate previous agreements with the PLO and consider canceling them partially or completely, and would make progress in the peace process more difficult in the future,” said Leshno-Yaar.
The efforts to dissuade the Palestinians are focusing mostly on the EU, said a senior ministry official. EU nations have relatively a lot of influence on Abbas in light of the large amounts of aid they provide the Palestinians, said a ministry official. The Israeli ambassadors were asked to coordinate their actions with the American ambassadors in their countries, and to start conducting background briefings with journalists and local opinion makers. The ambassadors were also requested to work on local members of parliament and influential members of the local Jewish communities to enlist them in putting pressure on the Palestinians against the move in the UN.
For Netanyahu, the UN vote trumps southern rocket fire
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees the vote in the UN as having extremely serious consequences for Israel. Netanyahu has held discussions on the matter almost every day over the past few days, and has been dealing with the matter no less than with that of the escalation and rockets in the south – if not more. Netanyahu is of the opinion that while the present round of fighting in the Gaza area can be controlled, the snowball effect started by the Palestinian initiative in the UN could be much harder to stop.
Monday evening, Netanyahu held a meeting with a number of his senior ministers to deal with the issue Israel fears the most: a scenario in which Palestine’s new status as a non-member state would allow it to be accepted as a member of the International Criminal Court of the UN in the Hague and demand Israel and its leaders be tried for war crimes. Israel is not a member of the International Criminal Court, and as a result its decisions do not obligate Israel. But a prosecution against Israel or senior Israeli officials in the international court could initiate a wave of criminal proceedings against Israel around the world and encourage the implementation of various economic sanctions against Israel, such as a ban on imports from the settlements.
During the meeting with Netanyahu, Lieberman and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said the Palestinian approach to the International Criminal Court would be “a declaration of war,” which would require Israel to respond even more strongly than the Palestinian initiative in the General Assembly.