Itamar Eichner, Yediot, September 18 2011
On Friday evening the PA Chairman rose to the podium in Ramallah’s mukataa and declared that he would submit the request for Palestinian statehood with the UN Security Council— thus firing the opening shots for one of the most significant weeks the region has ever known.
Much to the distaste of the United States, Abu Mazen decided to go for broke and attempt to attain UN recognition for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. “We are the only people in the world under occupation; there isn’t an island or an isolated place that has raised its flag and failed to receive a seat in the UN except the Palestinian people,” said Abu Mazen. “We seek to be recognized as members so that we will be able return to negotiations with Israel and discuss the final status settlement.” In addition, the PA Chairman opted to attack the settlers. “They uproot trees, burn mosques and train dogs to attack us,” he said. Abu Mazen, however, sought to make it clear that “turning to the UN does not mean the isolation or delegitimization of Israel,” and called on his people not to deviate from peaceful demonstrations.
Officials in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s bureau harshly attacked Abu Mazen’s speech over the weekend. “Peace is not achieved by unilaterally turning to the UN or by joining forces with the terror organization Hamas,” declared the bureau’s statement. “When the Palestinian Authority abandons these pointless actions, it will find in Israel a willing partner for direct peace negotiations.” Similar statements are also expected to appear in Netanyahu’s speech before the UN General Assembly on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Americans are enraged in wake of Abu Mazen’s speech, and said that the PA Chairman has broken their agreements by deciding to go for broke at the UN. “Abu Mazen is drunk with power,” said sources in Washington. “All that interests him is getting into the history books, and he could care less that his people will pay the price.” The Quartet also understands that Abu Mazen has climbed on to a high branch, from which he will have a hard time descending, and are therefore seeking to lower expectations as they begin negotiations today to find some compromise formula that both Israel and the Palestinians will find acceptable. That said, Israel predicts that the Americans will be able to consolidate a blocking majority in the UN Security Council and that this will constitute a major blow to Abu Mazen. Senior sources in the White House said that efforts were now being directed at the days following the vote, in order to ensure that negotiations between the parties could continue even if the Palestinians achieve success in the UN.
Meanwhile, the Israeli response to the Palestinian move appears to be becoming clearer: today Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon will arrive at the donor countries’ conference that is taking place in New York, where he will make it clear that the Palestinians’ unilateral action will close the door to negotiations and affect economic relations. This is an implied threat that a vote in the UN General Assembly could cause Israel to stop the transfer of tax money that it collects for the PA. This is an amount between NIS 3 billion to NIS 5.5 billion per annum, without which the Palestinian Authority will be unable to function. Some members of the forum of eight, including Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, support such a move; however, there are voices in the IDF that warn of the repercussions of non-payment of salaries to the Palestinian police officers who will be required to suppress riots against Israel.
Netanyahu himself will leave for New York on Tuesday and will meet with Obama on Wednesday. As of now, the American president has not scheduled a meeting with Abu Mazen, and Israel believes that this is a distinct rebuff to the Palestinians. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman left last night for Canada and the United States, where he is expected to hold a series of talks with foreign ministers at the UN and campaign for the rejection of the Palestinian initiative. Defense Minister Ehud Barak also left for Washington last night, for a diplomatic and defense related trip that will include meetings with US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus and other senior defense and intelligence officials. Barak is expected to return to Israel upon Netanyahu’s arrival at New York, but not before he also attempts to strengthen opposition to the Palestinian initiative.