Palestinians won’t have a true state until they officially recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and the expected recognition by the UN General Assembly of Palestine as a nonmember state will only push Palestinian self-determination further off into the future, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Thursday.
“The UN resolution will not change anything on the ground… It won’t bring a Palestinian state closer to existence, but push it further away,” Netanyahu said at a conference marking the 35th anniversary of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem.
“Israel’s hand is extended in peace, but there will not be a Palestinian state without the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state,” the prime minister told the audience at Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center. “A Palestinian state will never be established without a declaration on ending the conflict… and the establishment of security arrangements to protect the State of Israel and its citizens.”
“No matter how many hands are raised [at the UN], there is no power in the world that can disconnect the Jewish people from the land of Israel,” Netanyahu concluded.
With the UN General Assembly expected on Thursday afternoon (New York time) to approve the Palestinian Authority bid to upgrade its United Nations status to that of a nonmember state, Germany announced that it would be joining the swelling list of European countries friendly to Israel that will not oppose the vote, but would abstain.
“We didn’t take this decision [to abstain] lightly. We share the goal of a Palestinian state,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Thursday in Berlin. “But significant steps toward statehood can only be reached as a result of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. From our point of view it is doubtful whether the step the Palestinians are planning today will advance the peace process. Rather, we fear that it could lead to a hardening of the situation.”
Meanwhile, just hours ahead of the vote, Italy announced that it would be supporting the Palestinian petition, joining France, Spain, Cyprus, Portugal, Switzerland, Belgium and other European countries. Beyond the US and Canada, very few UN members are expected to oppose the motion to grant Palestine nonmember status. Eastern European countries Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have announced they will abstain.
Italian Premier Mario Monti telephoned Abbas to inform him of the decision. He also phoned Netanyahu to assure him that the decision does not mean any weakening of Italy’s traditional friendship with Israel.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that the change in the Palestinians’ status at the UN would not affect the European Union’s determination to resolve, through peace negotiations, outstanding final-status disagreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and would recognize a Palestinian state when the time was right.
“The European Union reaffirms that it will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties,” Ashton said in a statement. “The EU has repeatedly expressed its support and wish for Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations as part of a solution to the conflict… the EU reiterates its readiness to recognize a Palestinian State when appropriate.”
On Thursday morning, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told of massive Israeli pressure and “threats” ahead of the PA’s bid, and expressed his determination to go through with the initiative.
Pressure on him to retract the bid was “heavier than mountains,” Abbas told journalists.
“I’m not afraid of threats. I didn’t bolster my personal security detail. If Israel wants to harm me, it can do so, as, like all Palestinians, I’m under occupation,” he added.
Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the vote on the PA’s UN bid marked “a historic moment and historic day,” the culmination of the life’s work of the current generation of Palestinian leaders who were born “to put Palestine back on the map.”
The Palestinians “aren’t trying to confront anyone or isolate anybody,” Erekat, a member of the Palestinian Authority’s delegation to New York, told Army Radio. “We came [to the UN] in order to keep the idea of two states for two nations [alive].”
Like Abbas, Erekat dismissed Israeli threats — Jerusalem has backed down from statements regarding punitive measures — and said they made him doubt Israel’s sincerity in its avowals of support for a two-state solution. He added that the ostensible anger from Jerusalem about unilateral moves and “diplomatic terror” on the part of the Palestinians were “a joke.” Building settlements on Palestinian land, destroying Palestinians’ houses, and Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, were similarly one-sided actions, Erekat said. “If the vote is unilateral, how shall we call Israel’s actions since 1967?”
While some Israelis supported the Palestinian UN move, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert and Arab-Israeli MK Ahmed Tibi, who flew to New York to help the PA delegation, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon called it a “virtual move” that would only harm the Palestinians.
Ayalon told Army Radio that the unilateral bid was a violation of previous accords signed by the two sides, and that following the passage of a UN resolution granting statehood, Israel “would be less obligated to agreements with the Palestinians.”
While there were a number of measures that Jerusalem could take in response to the move, Ayalon said, it was important to consider them carefully and “not to act from our gut.” At the end of the day, he predicted, the Palestinians would be the ones most hurt by the initiative.
The US and Israel have led opposition to the statehood bid, though the move has broad support in the United Nations General Assembly with some 130 nations expected to vote yes on the matter. On Tuesday France said it would support the move, joining Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland and a host of other countries.
On Wednesday, Palestine Liberation Organization senior official Hanan Ashrawi urged the US to at least abstain, saying that voting no “would be seen as being really pathetic by the rest of the world” and would hurt American interests in the Middle East.
But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday told reporters the US believes the Palestinians were going in the wrong direction to reach their goals.
Clinton stressed that the “path to a two-state solution that fulfills the aspirations of the Palestinian people is through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not New York.”
Joshua Davidovich and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.