“The most powerful argument is that [forcing the US to cast a veto] will provoke a Palestinian awakening, that there will be a new violence and that we’ll be blamed,” said Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel.
The Palestinian Authority and its Arab allies are trying to make an end run around peace negotiations with Israel. At the very least, the Palestinians expect to win de facto recognition from the General Assembly of a Palestinian state along the lines they have dictated themselves.
This would permit the PA to apply for membership in dozens of UN sponsored agencies, and in particular, the International Court in the Hague.
AVOIDING THE BLAME
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas thinks that going to the UN for recognition is a way to win his demands from Israel without having to give anything in return. However, he also does not want to admit that by doing so he has undermined the negotiating process.
That is why the Palestinians claim that they are still willing to negotiate with Israel, but only on their own terms. They have set preconditions for the resumption of peace negotiations with Israel which would pre-determine the outcome of such negotiations, making a farce of the negotiating process.
Abbas insists on an Israeli commitment to a return to the pre-67 borders, a halt to all West Bank settlement activity, and a hard deadline for the achievement of a final agreement, would all seem intended to make an Israeli agreement to resume negotiations a waste of time. The pre-conditions would guarantee to satisfy, in advance, most of the Palestinian demands, leaving very little to negotiate over.
From a longer term perspective, the Palestinian effort at the UN can be seen as continuing the process of delegitimizing Israel in the international community which has long been pursued by the entire Arab world.
Once the Palestinians are members of the International Court and other UN agencies, it can press those bodies to take further punitive actions against Israel and its officials. Palestinian membership on the International Court would be particularly disruptive because it could lead to an attempt to get the court to issue indictments and international arrest warrants for Israeli officials and military leaders by accusing them of imaginary war crimes.
He told a group of left wing Israelis Monday that he was seeking UN membership not instead of negotiations with Israel, but in addition to them, and that he has already exhausted all of the opportunities to negotiate with the current Israeli government. “Our first, second and third priority is negotiations,” he said. “There is no other way to solve this. No matter what happens at the United Nations, we have to return to negotiations.”
He added that by going to the UN, “we don’t want to isolate Israel but to live with it in peace and security. We don’t want to delegitimize Israel. We want to legitimize ourselves.”
However, Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu warned that by seeking UN recognition, Abbas might set back the resumption of peace talks for years. He insisted that direct negotiations was the only way to move forward, but that, “Unfortunately, for over two and a half years, the Palestinians have done pretty much everything in their power to avoid such direct negotiations.”
EUROPEANS ON THE FENCE
The Palestinians are already sure to get a substantial majority for virtually any anti-Israel resolution which they present in the General Assembly. What they want most of all is the approval of as many European countries as possible for such a resolution.
While the European countries enthusiastically support the two-state solution and are generally sympathetic to the Palestinian desire for greater international recognition, they also realize that the current Palestinian diplomatic gambit is meant as an alternative to resuming serious negotiations with Israel for a permanent peace agreement.
This has put some of the European states in a dilemma. While they wish to signal their support of the Palestinian cause, they do not want to do so in a way that would hurt the chances of ever reaching a true negotiated settlement.
A senior White House official told the New York Times that, “the fact is there are countries who would choose not to do that vote if there was an alternative.” That is why they are introducing another proposal to restart peace talks now, even though hope for such talks to successfully conclude a peace agreement is virtually nil.
OBAMA IN A BIND
The Palestinians know that the Obama administration does not want to be put in the position of having to use its veto in the Security Council. They also understand that as he launches his re-election campaign, President Obama cannot back away from his promise to use the veto without alienating key political supporters and campaign contributors.
They have been maneuvering to use Obama’s predicament to get him to pressure Israel into agreeing to their demands to forego the UN bid and agree to return to the negotiating table.
White House officials recognize that the chances of heading off the Palestinian bid at the UN at this point are slim. For one thing, Palestinian leaders have been talking about it for so long that they would look very weak if they pulled back now without achieving any of their main demands for Israeli concessions.
But the White House has not given up. “We’re still focused on Plan A,” a senior administration official told the New York Times last week. However, the credibility of the US effort to pressure Israel into accepting Obama’s own peacemaking formulas, suffered with the departure in May of special Middle East envoy, George Mitchell. He has been replaced by a lower profile figure, David M. Hale, assisted by veteran US Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross, who is now the president’s adviser for the region on the National Security Council.
The State Department last month issued a message to more than 70 countries urging them to oppose any unilateral moves by the Palestinians at the United Nations. It suggested that forcing a UN vote on recognition could further destabilize the region and undermine hopes for reviving the long-stalled peace process.
LIMITED OPTIONS FOR THE QUARTET
The Quartet, comprised of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations is trying to formulate a new regional peace proposal as part of the effort to persuade nations which are still on the fence not to vote for Palestinian recognition.
Quartet diplomats are laboring to find a way to bridge the list of conflicting demands by Israel and the Palestinians which has grown longer with each failed US peacemaking initiative since Obama took office. The Quartet’s Middle East envoy, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, visited the region last week to negotiate the terms of the Quartet proposal with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, but made little progress.
To get the two sides back together at the negotiating table will require much more than just a symbolic gesture, like calling another international peace summit conference. However, it is more difficult than ever before to get either side to agree publicly to anything which would be seen as a major substantive concession on issues such as the future of the West Bank settlements, the status of Yerushalayim, or the starting point for border negotiations.
At this point, even formal recognition by the international community of Israel as a Jewish state would be seen as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.
HOW WILL ISRAEL RESPOND?
While US efforts to reach a last minute compromise to avoid the recognition vote continue, it has begun contingency planning to limit the extent of the Israeli reaction to the move.
A unilateral Palestinian move to seek recognition at the UN is a clear violation of both the spirit and various provisions of the signed Oslo Peace Accords. Theoretically, Israel would be within its legal rights to declare those agreements to be null and void.
As a practical matter, it is highly unlikely that it would cancel them outright at this point. However, Israel has warned that a unilateral action by the Palestinians in violation of the Oslo understandings would provoke unspecified unilateral moves by Israel in response.
Abbas, in his comments Monday, admitted that maintaining security cooperation with Israel on the West Bank is to the PA’s advantage. “We have good coordination to prevent terror and keep the situation calm and quiet,” he said. “We will continue to do our job. Security will prevail as long as I am in office.”
OBAMA STILL PRESSING HIS OWN MIDDLE EAST IDEAS
One of the problems with this administration’s approach has been that every time Obama publicly injects an idea of his own for another Israeli concession to restart the peace process, it immediately is added to the lengthening list of Palestinian precondition demands. For example, the latest Palestinian demand for a return to the pre-67 boundary originated when Obama publicly suggested it in a speech he made in May, just before he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who flatly rejected it.
Some analysts see the latest US effort to restart negotiations as just another way to get around Netanyahu’s rejection of that proposal. They still believe that Obama is trying to impose his pro-Palestinian view of a final peace settlement on Israel.
Over the next few weeks, the White House, the Palestinians and the Israelis will continue trying to promote their own spin in the media on the negotiations leading up to the diplomatic confrontation at the United Nations. Most Israeli leaders expect Obama to keep his promise to cast the US veto in the Security Council, but seem resigned to the inevitability of losing yet another vote on the floor of the General Assembly.
TIE-IN TO TERROR
Over the past several weeks, there has been an unusual increase in a variety of terrorist attacks on Israel. These include the attacks from across the Egyptian border on civilian Israeli buses and cars on the road from Be’er Sheva to Eilat which wound up killing 8 Jews. The army retaliation for those deaths led to renewed rocket attacks from Gaza on cities throughout southern Israel, including Ashkelon, Ashdod and Be’er Sheva. That was followed with an attempted attack on an end of summer youth party in the heart of Tel Aviv by a lone knife-wielding terrorist. He failed to reach its target, but nevertheless resulted in the wounding 8 people.
On the surface, and in ordinary times, these attacks would seem to be unrelated, but these are not ordinary times for Israel. The recent rise in the level of terrorist attacks of all kinds on Israel should be seen in the broader context of the diplomatic assault on Israel’s legitimacy at the UN.
Those behind the attacks are clearly trying to provoke Israel into making a major military response. They want Israel to launch a major retaliatory strike against the terrorists which can be manipulated to look like an over-reaction causing civilian casualties, in order to generate a larger vote in the UN General Assembly for the Palestinians.
ISRAEL REACTING WITH MORE RESTRAINT
This explains why the Israeli government has reacted to the recent flurry of terrorist attacks with notable restraint. Israel’s retaliatory strikes have been targeted specifically at the terrorist groups which were directly responsible for the initiating the attacks, while avoiding broader military responses that could trigger a diplomatic backlash at the UN. If the terrorists hoped that their latest attacks would provoke Israel into an escalation of the violence for which they would be blamed by the international community, they were disappointed.
Meanwhile, Israeli security forces report a continued high threat of further attacks coming from across the border in Egypt. In response to that threat, the Israeli Navy has dispatched additional warships to patrol the Red Sea adjacent to the Sinai desert, where reports persist that al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups are cooperating with Gaza-based terrorists to plan more attacks on Israel.
Israel is also rushing to deploy a third battery of Iron Dome anti-missile systems to protect Ashdod. It will work in conjunction with the two existing Iron Dome batteries which have succeeded in shooting down many of the larger Grad rockets fired at Be’er Sheva and Ashkelon in recent weeks.
ISRAELI PREVENTIVE MEASURES MORE EFFECTIVE
Israel’s security measures have proven to be much more effective than in past years at minimizing the amount of damage that the various terrorist attacks can do. The attacks have not stopped, but they are far less effective than they were during the intifada a decade ago.
For example, the army had some advance warning, but was unable to prevent the attacks on the Israeli vehicles on the Be’er Sheva-Eilat road two weeks ago. However, it did station additional forces in the area, which were able to respond very quickly to the attacks. This allowed Israel to quickly track down and kill both the terrorists responsible, and the senior terrorist leaders in Gaza who ordered and planned the attack, with a minimum of unintended civilian casualties.
Israel has also been willing to work with the interim military government in Egypt which sought to quiet the subsequent flurry of attacks and retaliation with Gaza terrorists, pressuring Hamas to re-impose the informal cease fire that gradually brought the missile attacks on Israeli cities to an end last week.
Unfortunately, those missile attacks resulted in one Jew being killed and others wounded, but the efforts by the terrorists to overwhelm the new Iron Dome missile defense system with mass attacks failed. The two missile batteries already in operation shot down almost all of the missiles aimed at the two cities they were protecting. With the expected addition of a third battery to defend Ashdod in coming weeks, the level of protection against future missile attacks is expected to improve further.
There was another Israeli victory over the terrorists earlier this summer that went almost unnoticed. In sharp contrast to what happened last year, Israel was able to thwart another attempt by terrorists to launch a flotilla to break the naval blockade of Gaza. Even more important, the flotilla was blocked with the help rather than criticism from, other members of the international community.
TEL AVIV TERROR ATTACK FAILS
Israel’s reactions to the terrorist threat have become both smarter and more effective. The foiled attempt last week of a knife-wielding terrorist to attack a club in Tel Aviv is a good example.
The terrorist tried to carry out an attack a Tel Aviv club called Haoman 17 which was attended by about a thousand young people.
He was apparently hoping to stage a repeat of the notorious June 1, 2001 suicide bombing attack on the Dolphinarium club in Tel Aviv in which 21 Jewish youths were killed and 132 injured.
But this time the terrorist wasn’t even able to get close to his target. The whole nation was already on high security alert following the attacks on the road to Eilat. This prompted Israeli border police to set up a security roadblock in front of the Tel Aviv club where the party was being held, strictly as a precautionary measure.
The terrorist, who was from Schechem, entered Israel from the West Bank illegally and purchased a knife. Just before 2 a.m. he hailed a cab, and then attacked the driver, Nachman Azi. “I picked him up in the Jaffa area on Salameh Street,” Azi said. “He asked to go to the central bus station. When we arrived he suddenly pulled out a knife and stabbed me in the hand. He threw me out of the cab and continued driving.”
The cab driver later said that he thought the Arab just wanted to steal his car. “If I had known it was a terrorist I would have fought to the end.”
After stealing the cab, the terrorist drove about half a mile and turned down Abarbanel Street towards the club.
A LIFESAVING ROADBLOCK
When he saw the Border Police roadblock in front of the club, he decided to use the cab to ram it, injuring two border policemen in the process.
At first, the police and others who witnessed the attack thought that it was a routine traffic accident caused by a drunk driver who lost control of his car.
Haron Tzur, the doorman at a nearby club, said, “We didn’t think it was a terror attack. “The terrorist lay on the steering wheel of the taxi. A police officer approached him to see his condition. The terrorist suddenly got up and started screaming ‘Allahu Akbar!’ and started stabbing the policeman.”
The wounded police officer dragged the terrorist out of the taxi, where he was subdued by three other police officers and three private security men.
Before he was subdued, the terrorist managed to stab a total of 8 people, but only one of them seriously.
A witness named Daniel who was waiting outside the club said, “We saw a car that slammed into another car. It was scary. If it weren’t for the checkpoint, he would have made it straight to us. It’s a miracle. We had only gone out to have some fun.”
The knife-wielding terrorist claimed that he planned the attack on his own, but Israeli security forces are expecting more trouble as the UN General Assembly session nears.
Israeli security services believe that a large Islamic Jihad terrorist cell has left Gaza for Egypt intending to launch another attack in the south after infiltrating the border from the Sinai Desert. The army has responded by ordering an “unprecedented” deployment in the area, including advanced technology to help detect the infiltrating terrorists at the earliest possible stage.
PREPARING FOR WEST BANK PROTESTS
The Israeli army is also planning for a possible outbreak of violent protests in the West Bank after the UN vote, or even an effort by the Arabs to launch human wave assaults intended to overrun the settlements, in order to provoke an Israeli military over-reaction.
A report in Ha’aretz says that the army has been preparing the civilian security chiefs in the West Bank settlements to deal with “human wave” protest marches by unarmed Palestinians trying to overrun the settlements themselves.
The army and the settlement security chiefs have established two defense lines around each settlement. If protesters try to pass the outer line, security personnel would be authorized to use tear gas, stun grenades and other non-lethal means to push them back. If that does not work, security personnel would be authorized to open fire with live ammunition at the feet of Palestinian protesters if they pass the second, inner “red line.”
The goal of the Palestinian protests would be to try to create “mass disorder” on the West Bank, by directly challenging Israel’s control over the settlements. The army has contingency plans if some of the protesters open fire, or try to carry out another kind of attacks.
The army has instituted a training program for each settlement’s security chief, which includes a walk-around inspection of the perimeter to identify any weak points. Each security chief will receive a supply of tear gas canisters and stun grenades, and training in their proper use.
The army has also asked officials in each settlement to put their communities on high security alert, starting on September 19. They are being asked to make sure that the stores in their settlement have adequate supplies on hand of essentials such as canned food, gasoline and natural gas. In addition, the settlements are being asked by the army to step up their security patrols guarding electrical and communication lines and equipment, and fresh water supplies.
The army has told settlement officials to be prepared to maintain a heightened state of security alert for a period of at least several weeks.
CURTAIN GOING UP ON THE MAIN EVENT
However, it appears that the next major confrontation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will take place at the UN. The terrorist attacks in August and the Israeli responses to them can be seen as preliminaries to the main event in New York City, where the curtain will go up in a few weeks.
Which side emerges as the winner in the diplomatic confrontation will be determined by how the European and other Western countries vote in the Security Council and the General Assembly. Both Israel and the Palestinians have been working for months to generate diplomatic support for their position from these countries, many of which still remain on the fence.