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Isracast Weekend Report

Analyst David Essing: The UN General Assembly Recognition Of Palestine As Non-member Observer State Is Diplomatic Debacle For Israel

Question: Will Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbass Now Agree To Direct Talks With Israel After UN Upgrade Or Will He Continue His Diplomatic Warfare?

Israel Responds By Approving Construction Of 3,000 New Housing Units On West Bank Linking Town Of Maale Adumim And Jerusalem An Area That Israel Will Insist On Keeping In Any Future Peace Agreement With Palestinians - Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: "UN Vote Is Meaningless, Palestinians Have Flagrantly Violated Oslo Accord - Only Direct Negotiations Can Lead To Palestinian State"

President Mahmoud Abbas (Photo: Amit Shabi)

 It is a diplomatic debacle for Israel - that is an accurate description of the massive support by the UN General Assembly for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Back in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu downplayed the impact charging that nothing had changed on the ground - only direct negotiations with Israel could ever lead to a Palestinian state. Moreover, by taking a unilateral step to bypass talks with Israel, Abbas had violated the Oslo Accord and two could play that game. Israel would also react with its own one-sided measures. Later Israeli officials announced government approval for the construction of 3,000 new housing units that will link the West Bank settlement town of Maale Adumin with Jerusalem. There is no question that Israel will insist on the area remaining part of Israel in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians.

 What is fair to say is Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman were caught napping by the Abbass coup in the GA. Until the eleventh hour they believed that Israel's diplomatic effort could block it as was the case in the U.S. Security Council last year. It is a fact of Israel's diplomatic life, that whenever Jerusalem does not initiate on the Palestinian track, others will.

Tzipi Livni (Photo: Amit Shabi)

While calling the Palestinian gambit a 'strategic blow' to Israel, former Foreign Minister Tzipi contended that it could have been prevented if Netanyahu had engaged Abbass in negotiations. Livni, who has just formed a new party to run in the upcoming election, said:" The Palestinian move in the GA could pose a problem for Israel". Not only could Palestine now cause trouble for Israel by laying charges of Israeli 'war crimes' at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. (It should be noted that Israel will also be able to lodge complaints against Palestine, which also includes Gaza, for any new rocketing of Israel or other acts of terrorism). Livni stressed that the GA vote also referred to a Palestinian state on the old 1967 lines, without security arrangements for the Jewish state. In her prior confidential talks with Abbass they had discussed border changes, security and an end to the conflict.

Only the 15 member Security Council can recommend country for full UN and last year it voted down the Palestinian bid. Therefore Dr. Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N., played down the importance of the GA vote by saying: "It has only upgraded the status of the Palestinian Authority delegation at the U.N.". Gold found it absurd that countries in the European Union, which had signed as witnesses to the Oslo Agreement, had now voted in favor of its one-sided violation by Abbass. Nonetheless the symbolism cannot be ignored.

The Palestinians chose to raise their proposal on November 29th, the same day back in 1947, when the General Assembly voted in favor of the Palestine Partition Plan that divided the former British mandate into Jewish and Arab states. Acting for the Jewish population, the Jewish Agency had immediately accepted the partition; the Palestinians and the Arab League rejected it out-of-hand and threatened' to drive the Jews into the sea'. Azzam Pasha, the General Secretary of the Arab League warned the Jews of 'a dangerous massacre which history will record similarly to the Mongol massacre and the wars of the Crusades'. After David Ben Gurion declared the new Jewish state in 1948, the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia attacked in support of the Palestinian forces already inside the disputed area. An estimated 600,000 Palestinians lost their homes as a result of the Arab invasion, what the Palestinians call the 'Al Nakba', the Catastrophe. (This is what Abbas described in his speech as 'rectifying the unprecedented historical injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people since 1948'. On the other hand, a similar number of Jews were forced to leave their homes in the Arab states where they were persecuted.)

Impact on current election campaign...

This depends on whom you plan to vote for on January 22: Likud-Lieberman supporters will view it as another sign of diplomatic duplicity by Mahmoud Abbas, who is evading direct negotiations with Israel and turning to the U.N. in the hope it will pull his chestnuts out of the fire. They might sum it up with the Hebrew expression 'lo naim, lo norah', it's not pleasant but not terrible!

Israel's parliament the Knesset

But on the other side of the electoral divide, voters will view it as the writing on the wall. Although Israeli diplomats abroad and the U.S. State Department tried to block the GA vote, 138 nations (although more than half make up the pro-Arab automatic bloc, most of Israel's friends either abstained or voted for the upgrading of the Palestinian status. It signals the international community is getting tired of the stalemate and expects Israel, the more powerful of the two, to go first in making some concession to get the ball rolling. A senior Israeli diplomat, now retired, could not hide his exasperation when he told me: "I cannot understand why we have not found a way to talk with the Palestinians, but how can it done if our Foreign Minister now talks openly about trying to dump Mahmoud Abbas!'

The latest opinion poll taken before the UN vote, indicated Netanyahu is maintaining a solid leader over the other candidates as the choice for next prime minister. Published in Yediot Ahronot daily 62% of Israeli voters favored the Likud leader while only 19% supported Labor's Shelly Yachimovich. However, Tzipi Livni fared better in a match-up with Netanyahu although the encumbent still won by a considerable margin of 55% to 30%.

But Israelis don't cast a ballot for the premiership, rather they vote for the party of their choice in the 120 member Knesset. On this score, Likud - Lieberman lead with 37 Knesset seats followed by 19 for Labor and 9 each for the Livni and Lapid parties. However it's still early days and Yachimovich and Livni are raring to go. The GA vote and the latest statistics that show one in five Israelis are living beneath the poverty line gives them more ammuntion for what is shaping up to be one the fiercest election campaigns ever in Israel.

Finally what is now coming across is that Livni is an articulate campaigner in foreign relations while Yachimovich is bearing the banner of economic and social reform. On the face of it, this should influence the two party leaders to follow the example of Netanyahu and Lieberman and pool their resources on one ticket. However there is no chance of that happening - Yachimovich and Livni each insist on having first place on the list. Late-comer Livni contends she can attract floating voters from the Center who reject the socialist Labor party. It should be remembered in the previous election in 2009, Livni lead the Kadima list that actually won 28 Knesset seats, one more than Netanyau's Likud.

David Essing

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