US, Israel low key as France announces support for Palestinian UN bid

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The United States, in consultations with Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molho in Washington in recent days, has urged Israel not to overreact to Palestinian plans to seek upgraded status at the United Nations on Thursday, advice Israel seemed inclined to take.

France on Tuesday said it would support the Palestinians’ bid to seek non-member observer status at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.

British diplomats indicated Tuesday that Britain is still undecided how it will vote.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Tuesday about the issue, the State Department said, adding it agreed to disagree with France over its decision to back the Palestinian bid.

“With regard to France and any other countries, we obviously disagree with our oldest ally on this issue,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told journalists at the State Department Tuesday. “They know that we disagree with them, but it’s their sovereign decision to make how to proceed.”

The United States, France and UK have urged the Palestinians to modify language in the draft resolution concerning whether Israel could be brought before the International Court of Justice or International Criminal Court.

But western diplomats told Al Monitor Tuesday that the Palestinians think they have enough votes for the measure to pass at the UNGA without modifying the language and did not seem likely to change it. The key imperative is for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to resume soon, a European diplomat, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Tuesday.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sees pursuing the UN bid “as an act of [political] survival,” Rob Malley, a Middle East expert at the International Crisis Group, told a panel at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Monday. His UN bid “is the most moderate expression of his frustration. Politically, he has no choice.”

“The smart answer for Israel would be … to say ‘fine by us,’ and not react in a harsh way,” Malley continued. “Taking harsh retaliatory measures [would risk promoting] the image of punishing Abbas for going to the UN when [Israel] rewarded Hamas with a ceasefire” after the Gaza conflict this month.

Israeli diplomats indicated that is the approach Israel was likely to take for now, though they complained the timing of the UN bid being just before Israeli elections was particularly unhelpful.

“At least for now, we’re going to go low profile on the whole deal,” an Israeli diplomat, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Tuesday. “Just another day of ‘let’s be horrible to Israel.’. We’re used to it and aren’t getting excited, even if it is completely unhelpful to the pursuit of conflict resolution and a violation of all agreements between us, etc.”

“On the other hand, a low key response could mean that instead of delivering over and above the Oslo agreements and various related documents, we may now behave completely in accordance,” he continued. “For example: the Paris economic accords specifically say that Israel is entitled to set of debts owed from taxes collected on behalf of the PA. Well they owe the Israel electric corporation 700 million shekels (some $175+ million). We’re just going to be left with no choice but to dock this off further tax collected prior to transferring it to the PA. Just abiding by agreements from now on.”

Update: Germany said Wednesday  it would vote against the Palestinian measure, while Britain said it might abstain. Several other European nations, including Spain, Portugal, Austria, Finland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Malta, Ireland and Switzerland, said they would join France to vote in favor of it. Australia, following an uproar in its ruling party over plans to vote against the measure, was likely to abstain.

(Photo: Palestinians hold placards depicting President Mahmoud Abbas’ during a rally in support of Abbas’ efforts to secure a diplomatic upgrade at the United Nations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah November 25, 2012.  REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman .)