Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Thursday that the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition, which is expected to be approved by a majority in the U.N. General Assembly, "will not change a thing, and certainly won't hasten the establishment of a Palestinian state."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was to speak at the General Assembly on Thursday to seek the status of an observer state for the Palestinian Authority. The move is widely seen as an indirect bid for U.N. recognition of statehood. Israel has failed to garner a "moral minority" of countries, mostly in Europe, to vote against the measure. The Palestinians are certain to win U.N. recognition as a state but success could exact a high price: delaying an independent state of Palestine because of Israel's vehement opposition.
"Israel's hand is perpetually extended toward peace, but no Palestinian state will exist without recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. No Palestinian state will exist without a declaration of an end to hostilities, and no Palestinian state will exist without real security arrangements that will protect the State of Israel and its citizens. None of these things are remotely mentioned in the Palestinian petition to the U.N," Netanyahu said in a statement.
"There is only one way peace can be achieved," he continued. "Through direct negotiation between the sides without preconditions, not through unilateral U.N. resolutions that don't take Israel's existence and security into account at all. Peace will be achieved through understandings between Jerusalem and Ramallah, not detached declarations at the U.N."
Netanyahu further said no one should be alarmed by the applause the Palestinian bid will elicit at the U.N. headquarters.
"As prime minister of Israel, I will not allow the establishment of another Iranian terror center in the heart of the country, in Judea and Samaria, about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from here, from the center of Jerusalem,” he said. “No matter how many countries vote against us, there is no force in the world that can compel me to compromise Israel's security."
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Yisrael Beytenu) echoed Netanyahu's remarks on Thursday, telling Israel Radio that the Palestinian status upgrade was "meaningless." Ayalon said that in any future negotiations, Jerusalem would now present only a tougher stance, seeking international guarantees for any understandings, should any be struck.
"Abbas once again proved that he supports diplomatic terror," Ayalon said.
Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser also declared that the Palestinian petition would undermine peace efforts, stressing that the Palestinians needed to understand that Middle East peace would only be achieved through negotiations.
"This [Palestinian move] constitutes a breaking of the rules, which allows the Israeli government the freedom to take any steps it deems necessary to protect Israel's interests," Hauser said.
However, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert voiced the opposing view on Wednesday, telling the Daily Beast, “I believe that the Palestinian request from the United Nations is congruent with the basic concept of the two-state solution. Therefore, I see no reason to oppose it. It is time to give a hand to, and encourage, the moderate forces among the Palestinians. Abu Mazen [Abbas] and Salam Fayyad [the Palestinian Authority prime minister] need our help. It's time to give it.”
Meanwhile, it emerged Thursday that Germany would abstain from the General Assembly vote. In recent days, Germany, which was expected to vote against the initiative, has been deliberating what to do.
"We did not take this decision lightly," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement Thursday. "Germany shares the goal of a Palestinian state. We have campaigned for this in many ways ... but the decisive steps toward real statehood can only be the result of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians."
According to media sources, the Foreign Ministry believes that the Czech Republic, which was also expected to vote against the initiative, may now follow suit and abstain.
It was beginning to seem all but certain that the Palestinian petition would gain wide support and ultimately garner official approval. Barring any last-minute surprises preventing Abbas from speaking, the Palestinian Authority is guaranteed an automatic majority.
The Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry were concentrating on the fact that with his petition Abbas would be violating an explicit request made by U.S. President Barack Obama, and that his actions would likely undermine the prospects of future peace negotiations.
"This is a meaningless resolution," said one senior official in Jerusalem, saying that only the U.N. Security Council could approve the establishment of a state.
"After failing to be accepted as a member state by the U.N., they are approaching the General Assembly to achieve symbolic recognition," the official said. "This will be the third time they gain symbolic recognition from the U.N.”
What exactly the diplomatic upgrade will mean is debatable. The Palestinians argue that the upgraded status would serve as a stepping stone toward independent statehood. The only thing that will change will be the Palestinian Authority's access to all U.N. bodies, including the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which accepts petitions from the U.N. Should they wish to do so, the Palestinians would be able to file frequent legal complaints against Israel's actions in the West Bank with the court and wage a war of attrition of sorts against Israeli policy within every U.N. body.
But beyond that, the practical implications of the Palestinian initiative are not clear.
"Will the Palestinians have a state tomorrow? No. Will they have borders and independence? No. Will new Palestinian institutions be established on the way to freedom? Also, no. So, ultimately, on the ground, this move has no practical significance whatsoever," said one U.N. diplomat.
The U.N. vote on the issue will be part of the international day of solidarity with the Palestinians, marked annually on Nov. 29. During the course of the day, speeches and resolutions favoring the Palestinians are expected, peaking around 10 p.m. Israel time with Abbas' speech. Abbas' remarks will be followed by Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor's rebuttal speech. After several additional speeches, the General Assembly is expected to vote.
As a sign of the importance Israel attaches to the vote, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman flew to New York and was scheduled to meet Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before the vote. Prosor had been scheduled to speak in the General Assembly after Abbas, but it appears Lieberman may now make Israel's case opposing the resolution.
The Palestinians require a majority of 98 members out of 193. At this point, it seems about 150 member states will vote in favor.
France announced its support for the move two days ago, and official sources told Israel Hayom on Wednesday that after Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip, it was important to France to boost Abbas' status. In addition, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark and Spain announced Wednesday that they would vote in favor. Together with Portugal, Norway, Ireland and others, about half of Europe's countries are expected to stand by Abbas. Brazil, which as a member state will be presenting the Palestinian petition, will also support the initiative.
Alongside the U.S., Israel's closest ally, additional countries expected to oppose the bid are Holland, Italy and Australia. Britain, which has demanded that the Palestinians vow to return to the negotiating table and refrain from petitioning the International Court of Justice, kept its cards close to its chest, but it will most likely abstain.