Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman threatened to topple Palestinian President Mahmoud 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, presumably meant to deter the Palestinian leadership from its bid to upgrade the status of “Palestine” at the UN, said that despite the risk of such a move, “removing Abbas from power would be the only option in such a scenario.”
According to the paper, any “softer” response would constitute an Israeli admission that it is unable to meet the challenge of the UN bid and would make a future negotiated agreement an impossibility.
The paper also recommended offering the PA some rewards for abandoning the UN General Assembly gambit, stating that if the Palestinians refrain from approaching the UN, Israel should negotiate a Palestinian state on provisional borders with the PA.
Jerusalem considers the Palestinian statehood move a grave violation of signed agreements and therefore the Foreign Ministry this week instructed Israeli ambassadors around the world to tell the presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers of their host countries to do everything in their power to prevent such a development.
Despite heavy pressure from Jerusalem and Washington, Abbas told US President Barack Obama in a phone conversation on Sunday that he would ask the UN General Assembly to accept Palestine as a nonmember state later this month. An overwhelming majority of the body’s 193 member states is expected to vote in favor of Abbas’s proposal, which Israeli officials fear would have far-reaching negative implications for Israel.
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.
On Monday, Abbas offered to restart peace talks immediately after the UN bid.
“You are asked immediately at the beginning of the work week to contact the foreign ministry, prime minister’s office, national security adviser or president’s office and request to do all possible to halt the Palestinian initiative because of its far-reaching consequences,” read a cable a senior Foreign Ministry official sent to the ambassadors.
The envoys were also instructed to lobby with local parliamentarians and senior members of the Jewish community to pressure the Palestinians against their statehood gambit.
“The Palestinian resolution is a clear violation of the fundamental principle of negotiations and is a violation of the agreements between Israel and the PLO,” read the missive, 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.”
“We have been making the same argument for over a year. By seeking UN recognition at this point, the Palestinians are in fundamental disagreement with the Oslo Accords and are shattering the whole arrangement to pieces, making it null and void,” a government official told The Times of Israel Wednesday.
“If our agreements are not binding on them, they are not binding on us, and we may choose to disregard parts or all of the agreements.”
Over the weekend, Liberman met in Vienna with Israeli ambassadors to European countries and briefed them about steps Israel is considering taking in response to the Palestinians’ UN move. According to Haaretz, he said that possible punishments for a statehood bid, besides a cancellation of the Oslo agreements, include stopping the transfer of tax money Israel collects for the PA and canceling Palestinians’ work permits.
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said the Israeli threat should be taken seriously. “Why is it all right for Abbas to initiate steps that counter agreements and not us?” he said in an interview with Israel Radio Wednesday. “Israel should also take the opportunity to announce that it is annexing the Jewish settlements in the West Bank,” Erdan added.
Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Army Radio that Israel would “have to take steps to make it clear that there will be a heavy price” if the Palestinians go ahead with their plan. He said it would be a “flagrant” breach of the accords but stopped short of saying they would be rendered void.
But Kadima MK Ronnie Bar-On dismissed the Israeli government suggestions as “ridiculous.” “Does anyone really believe Israel will cancel the Oslo agreements and once again rule over a giant Palestinian population?” he said. “The vacuum in peace talks aided the Palestinians more than their armed struggle.”
On Saturday, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel would not collect taxes on the Palestinians’ behalf, nor deliver the money to the PA, nor assist Ramallah in economic matters if the Palestinians insist on advancing their bid.
Under the current economic agreements between Israel and the PA, Israel collects customs, border and some income taxes on behalf of the Palestinians and transfers the sums to Ramallah on a monthly basis.
The finance minister noted that the Palestinians backed down from a unilateral UN bid last year after Israel blocked the transfer of Palestinian tax funds to the PA.
The vote on Palestinian statehood is set to take place on November 29, the anniversary of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, which 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.