Facing defeat, Israel U-turns on Palestine bid

The Guardian, JERUSALEM

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 - Page 7

After weeks of shrill warnings over yesterday’s UN vote on Palestinian statehood, Israel has backed away from threats to cancel the Oslo Accords and topple the Palestinian leadership.

Israeli officials are now downplaying any immediate sanctions against the Palestinians after it became clear that the request for statehood has gathered strength since the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Several European countries, including France, Switzerland, Spain and Austria, will back the Palestinian move in part out of concern that failing to do so will weaken Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to the advantage of Hamas.

Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman previously drew up proposals saying that if the UN vote went ahead “then Israel must exact a heavy price from Abu Mazen [Abbas], including the possibility of toppling his regime and dismantling the Palestinian Authority.”

Israeli officials warned that funding to the Palestinian Authority could be cut, peace accords canceled in part or in whole, and unrestricted construction of Jewish settlements authorized.

Yet the threats have not deterred Palestine nor a significant number of European countries from supporting their bid for UN “observer state” status — equal to the Vatican’s.

Officials in Jerusalem are now instead seeking to disparage the vote as being of no great significance.

“We won’t cancel any of our agreements,” a senior Israeli diplomatic official told reporters.

The Israeli move also came under US pressure. Newspaper Haaretz reported that US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week not to destabilize the Palestinian Authority.

Israel says the Palestinian leadership will instead be judged on how it uses the new non-member state status at the UN, particularly over asking the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes.

Abbas is under considerable pressure from Israel, the US and particularly Britain to renounce the option for the Palestinian Authority to accede to the ICC.

Britain said it would abstain in the vote unless it received assurances that Palestine would not seek to extend the jurisdiction of the ICC over the occupied territories, and unless the Palestinians committed to an immediate and unconditional return to talks with Israel.

However, the resolution drafted by the Palestinians on Wednesday showed no such concessions.

The Palestinian observer at the UN, Riyad Mansour, told reporters that the Palestinian Authority would neither immediately sign up for the ICC, nor renounce its right to do so.