OCCUPIED JERUSALEM – Facing an unprecedented Palestinian diplomatic offensive, Israel is in a quandary over a Palestinian bid to seek recognition of their state at the United Nations.
"I understand that the Israeli side thinks that this is a bad thing for us,” Oded Eran, the head of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told Reuters.
“Diagnosis is one thing, but where is the prescription?"
The Palestinians are planning to seek UN recognition of their state during the UN General Assembly meeting later this month.
The United States has threatened to veto any Palestinian statehood resolution at the UN Security Council.
If so, the Palestinians can ask the General Assembly to elevate their UN status from an observer to a "non-state member."
Washington has no enough support to block a vote by the General Assembly, which is expected to overwhelmingly support the Palestinian bid.
The change would pave the way for the Palestinians to join dozens of United Nations bodies and conventions.
It could also strengthen the Palestinian ability to pursue cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
"One thing is sure, Israel's image is going to take another beating," said Eran.
The Palestinians say that 20 years of US-sponsored peace talks with Israel have failed, with a deal as elusive as ever.
Israel says it is ready for negotiations, but is refusing to bow to Palestinian call for freezing settlement building in the occupied West Bank and Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem).
Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu has toured Europe this year seeking backing for the Israeli stance, and ensure that most major democracies shun the Palestinian move.
Some are expected to heed his call, but at least 120 of the 193 UN member states look ready to support the Palestinians.
What worries Israel most is that the upgrading of the Palestinian status will allow the Palestinians to take action against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Israel fears the Palestinians could use the ICC to take action against some 500,000 Israelis who live in the occupied West Bank.
"This dangerous move may deteriorate the situation on the ground, weaken the relatively moderate Palestinians and encourage terror activities," said Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, a Netanyahu deputy and close ally.
Like most Israelis, he says the Palestinian project is a clear violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords which led to the formation of the Palestinian Authority (PA), giving it limited self-rule, and set out the guidelines for future peace talks.
"I'm afraid that eventually ... we and maybe the US and other parties too, shall have to take measures that may have a negative impact on the sustainability of the Palestinian entity," Yaalon told a conference in Herzilya this week.
Some officials suggest the government should withhold tax transfers to the Palestinians as a punishment or withdraw travel privileges for PA leaders looking to leave the West Bank.
Others propose even more dramatic measures, with Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau of the nationalist Yisrael Betenu Party demanding that Israel annex its major West Bank settlement blocs in response to any UN resolution.
The Israeli military is concerned that settlements could become a focal point of possible Palestinian protests tied to the statehood bid and have offered training to settler security units on how to handle crowd disturbances.
The Palestinians have called for rallies in support of their UN action, but have said these will be peaceful, rejecting suggestions another Intifada is in the offing.
Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak has also downplayed the prospect of violence.
Some Israeli officials, however, prefer to keep quiet and let the storm caused by the Palestinian statehood bid pass.
"This is just a PR exercise. We should not attach great significance to it," former Israeli ambassador Alain Baker, who helped draft many of the legal documents that underpin Israel's relations with the PA, told Reuters.
"They are not going to get their borders decided at the UN General Assembly," he added, pointing to a declaration of independence by former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in 1988 that failed to lead to a de facto sovereign state.
"Nothing happened after 1988 because Arafat didn't have the components of statehood,” Alan said.
“To a certain extent the same is true today. Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) does not have control of Gaza so cannot herald a state he doesn't hold," he said, referring to the small Palestinian enclave run by rival group Hamas.
Israel might have tried to defuse the crisis by telling the UN that it too supported the notion of a Palestinian state in a resolution that also underscored its own priorities, such as a need for security assurances.
But Netanyahu's advisers rejected this, sticking to the view that such matters can be decided only through negotiations and shrugging off Palestinian complaints that direct talks have achieved very little since the heady days of Oslo.
Ironically, it was the UN General Assembly which, in 1947, approved creating a Jewish state in part of then British-ruled Palestine.
Arab states were opposed and went to war against the nascent Israel only to lose significant territory.
A Western diplomat in Israel predicted a less dramatic follow up to the latest General Assembly action."There is always a lot of sound and fury, but a month after the United Nations General Assembly, the chances are that nothing will have changed on the ground," said the diplomat, who declined to be identified.
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