In about-face, Israel says it won’t cancel Oslo if Palestinians pursue UN bid
Israel is backtracking on its threat to dismantle the Oslo Accords if the
Palestinians go ahead with their attempt to upgrade their status at the United
Nations later this week, a top diplomatic official said Tuesday in Jerusalem.
This position, expressed two days before the UN General Assembly was set to
vote on the Palestinian Authority’s resolution, marks a remarkable alteration
of Jerusalem’s previous stance.
“We won’t cancel any of our agreements,” the senior official said. However, the
official said, Jerusalem still considers Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas’s unilateral step to seek nonmember state status at the UN a
grave violation of agreements signed with Israel, and vowed that Israel would
Despite heavy pressure from Jerusalem and Washington, Abbas is determined to
put his bid for statehood to a vote at the UN General Assembly this Thursday.
An overwhelming majority of the body’s 193 member states is expected to vote in
favor of Abbas’s proposal, which would upgrade Palestine from an observer
entity to a nonmember state, a development Israeli officials fear would have
far-reaching negative implications for Israel.
On Tuesday, France became the first major European nation to sign on,
bolstering the already sure-fire bid.
While Palestine would not have a vote in the General Assembly, it would hope to
come under the aegis of the International Court of Justice or the International
Criminal Court, where it could mount legal challenges to Israel’s presence in
the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israel will quietly await Thursday’s vote before deciding on sanctions, the
official said. If the Palestinians go ahead with the vote on Thursday, Israel
will consider a series of punitive steps, such as seeking to call in
Palestinian debts, he added by way of example.
The notoriously cash-strapped PA owes the Israel Electric Corporation over NIS
700 million, or $175 million, he said.
It’s not clear what stands behind the change in the ministry’s policy. On
Sunday, Haaretz reported that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressured
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ease up on punitive measures against the
PA for the bid.
In the meantime, Israel is taking a low profile with regards to the Abbas’
statehood gambit. “We don’t have to be worried, and we will stay passive,” the
official said. “When we choose to respond, we will carefully weigh our options.
We will do everything we can that’s within Israeli law and within the framework
of the agreements we signed with the Palestinians.”
Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)
The official said the cabinet must approve the state’s response, hinting that
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman does not have Jerusalem’s backing to cancel
the Oslo Accords. Just two weeks ago, Liberman threatened to topple Abbas’s
government and cancel all or parts of the Oslo peace accords if the United
Nations accepts Palestine as a nonmember state.
A draft position paper authored by Liberman’s office said that despite the risk
of such a move, “removing Abbas from power would be the only option in such a
According to the paper, any “softer” response would constitute an Israeli
admission that it was unable to meet the challenge of the UN bid and would make
a future negotiated agreement an impossibility.
“The Palestinian resolution is a clear violation of the fundamental principle
of negotiations and is a violation of the agreements between Israel and the
[Palestine Liberation Organization],” read another Foreign Ministry position
paper, written by the head of the Foreign Ministry’s department for
international organizations, Aharon Leshno-Yaar. “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.”
But speaking to reporters on Tuesday, the senior diplomatic official said there
were several position papers being written by Foreign Ministry staff and that
recommendations only become Israel’s official policy if the cabinet approved
them. So far, the government has not decided on which sanctions to apply, the
official added,but he pledged that Israel would not cancel any written
agreements with the Palestinians.
“That they are bringing to the UN a unilateral resolution for statehood doesn’t
bring us closer to an agreement — it actually moves us away from an agreement,”
the official said. “The day after [the UN vote], the settlements [in the West
Bank] will still be where they are right now.”
The PA scheduled its bid at the General Assembly for Thursday, the 65th
anniversary of the UN Partition Plan, which in 1947 called for a Jewish and an
Arab state in Palestine. November 29 is also the UN’s International Day of
Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
Last year, Abbas applied for full UN membership, which requires Security
Council approval but the United States, which had veto power in that body made
clear it would block the move. However, the Palestinians can easily secure a
majority at the General Assembly that would grant them the status of a
nonmember state, similar to the Vatican’s. A vast majority of countries —
including many of Israel’s allies — have already said they would vote in favor
of the resolution.
The US and Canada are among the few countries that have stated clearly that
they would vote against Abbas’s resolution. Australia and Germany reportedly
lean toward abstaining, while other Western countries, including France,
Ireland, Spain, and Portugal will likely vote in favor.
Even the UK, which until last week opposed the plan, is now reportedly
considering voting in favor, provided that the Palestinians do not to attempt
to bring charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court. Just last
week, Foreign Secretary William Hague said London was against the Palestinians’
plan as it “would make it harder to secure a return to negotiations and could
have very serious consequences for the Palestinian Authority.”
But Israel is not worried about the prospect of the world’s nations voting for
a Palestinian state, the senior diplomatic official said. Most Western
governments that support Abbas’s statehood bid have internal political
motivations for doing so but are fully aware that a UN declaration is merely
symbolic and does not advance the peace process.
“Most countries will be against us, but what kind of countries? Quality beats
quantity. If the US, Canada and Germany vote with us, that’s good enough for
us,” he said.
The resolution Abbas plans to submit would have the General Assembly vote “to
accord to Palestine Nonmember Observer State status in the United Nations,”
according to a draft obtained by The Times of Israel. The resolution “reaffirms
the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence
in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.”
It also “expresses the hope that the Security Council will approve Palestine’s
2011 application for full membership.”
The draft also articulates “the urgent need for the resumption and acceleration
of negotiations within the Middle East peace process… for the achievement of a
just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement between the Palestinian and
Israeli sides that resolves all outstanding core issues, namely the Palestine
refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security and water.”