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Israel says Palestine upgrade at U.N. would be mistake

By Dan Williams, Reuters

August 31, 2011 | 4:41 pm

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Aug. 28. Photo by REUTERS/Uriel Sinai/Pool

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Aug. 28. Photo by REUTERS/Uriel Sinai/Pool

Upgrading the Palestinians’ U.N. status would be a “strategic mistake by the world”, a senior Israeli official said on Wednesday, cautioning that Israel had prepared a slew of punitive and diplomatic responses.

Outlining government strategy ahead of next month’s showdown at the United Nations, the official said long-stalled peace talks would sag further should the Palestinians sidestep Israel in staking out statehood.

“It’s clear to all that no foreseeable Israeli government could give the Palestinians what they get from the U.N.,” the official said, referring to proposed recognition of their claim on all of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“It will create an unbridgeable rift. It could set negotiations back by years,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It is going to be a strategic mistake by the world.”

The United States has said it would veto any such resolution at the Security Council, but Israel is troubled by the Palestinian fallback option of seeking upgraded “non-member state” capacity at a supportive General Assembly.

Such an upgrade could speed Palestinian recourse to international agencies through which to pressure Israel over its West Bank settlements, East Jerusalem annexation, Gaza Strip blockade and military crackdowns.

The Palestinians have vowed to seek full U.N. membership for a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

President Mahmoud Abbas has said he would deliver the application to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the General Assembly session, which begins the week of Sept. 19.

The Israeli official played down the prospect of the U.N. campaign deepening Israel’s isolation—something the Palestinians deny seeking—or triggering new fighting after years of relative West Bank quiet.

While Israeli forces were preparing to respond to flareups in the Palestinian territories and on volatile border regions if necessary, the official described this as a worst-case scenario and among many contingency plans being prepared.

OPTIONS

He said others ranged from slap-on-the-wrist sanctions like revoking the travel permits of Palestinian notables to, at the far end of the spectrum, unspecified diplomatic “declarations”.

With the exact ramifications of the Palestinians’ U.N. move still unclear, Israel “has not made a decision about any of the arrows in the quiver”, the official said.

Israeli media have speculated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could annex swathes of settlements built on territory captured in a 1967 war.

At least one of Netanyahu’s cabinet ministers has proposed cutting off the Palestinian Authority, whose mandate was truncated to the West Bank after it lost Gaza to rival Hamas Islamists in 2007 and whose security services and economy rely heavily on cooperation with Israel.

While the official said the Netanyahu government wanted to resume talks with the Palestinians rather than see them pursue the U.N. route, he ruled out meeting their conditions such as a renewed moratorium on West Bank settlement construction.

Asked whether Israel might itself recognize Palestine, casting the standoff as a turf dispute between sovereign states rather than an unequal military occupation, the official said this option had been examined but was unlikely.

Israel would, he said, try to turn the tables on the Palestinians at the United Nations by exploiting drawbacks to their upgraded status.

“If they’re a non-member state, then there’s no place for the PLO in the U.N.,” he said, referring to the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, whose purview includes the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip as well as war refugees who demand the right to return to homes and lands lost to Israel.

Some jurists have argued that a U.N. move formalizing statehood in the Palestinian territories would dovetail with Israel’s insistence that refugees be resettled there—another core sticking point in two decades of stop-start negotiations.

“It’s clear to all what the ramifications will be regarding the refugees,” the Israeli official said.

Writing by Dan Williams

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