Recriminations in Israel as Palestinians win UN upgrade
The Palestinians’ historic UN success sparked angry recriminations in Israel on Friday, with officials saying it crippled peace hopes and the opposition blaming government inaction for causing the crisis.
But several pundits also suggested it could have positive implications for Israel by resurrecting the long-dead peace process.
During the landmark vote in New York on Thursday, members of the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a resolution recognising Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member observer state.
It was a major diplomatic coup for the Palestinians and a stinging slap to Israel, whose UN Ambassador Ron Prosor quickly denounced it as a step which would “place further obstacles and preconditions to negotiations and peace.”
The argument was echoed by Israel’s hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who told public radio the UN move proved that Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas “is absolutely not interested in making peace.”
The UN vote dominated the headlines in Israel, with newspapers and commentators polarised along political lines as the country heads towards a January general election.
“Israel: The UN gave a prize to terror,” said the Israel HaYom daily, an open backer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu himself dismissed the UN vote as “a meaningless decision that will not change anything on the ground,” and said that peace could only be found in “direct negotiations.. and not in one-sided UN decisions.”
But he also warned that in going to the UN, the Palestinians had “violated” previous agreements with Israel, such as the 1993 Oslo Accords, and that his country would “act accordingly”.
“The violation of these agreements ... means Israel can also take unilateral initiatives such as applying Israeli sovereignty in the territories,” deputy prime minister Silvan Shalom told public radio, referring to a de facto annexation of the West Bank.
He also spoke about moves to link up Jerusalem with the sprawling Maaleh Adumim settlement to the east, in a move which would effectively cut the West Bank in half, an idea often raised by hardliners in Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who returned to politics earlier this week at the head of a new centrist faction called HaTnuah, described the UN move as “a strategic terror attack” by the Palestinians which she blamed on Netanyahu.
“The government could have stopped the Palestinian initiative at the UN if it had conducted peace negotiations,” she charged.
“Israel lost today,” she said in a separate statement.
“Instead of recruiting the world to Israel’s side, the world is now standing on the Palestinians’ side. That is a results of the mistaken policy, four years of political stalemate, speeches and accusations by the Netanyahu government.”
Despite Israel’s denunciation, Abbas has insisted the UN upgrade would complement peace efforts. “We are committed to achieving our rights through peace and negotiations,” he said at a celebration after the vote.
Many commentators were quick to point out that the UN vote was likely to make little practical impact on the ground.
“The UN General Assembly ... passed a ridiculous resolution lacking any rationale, and it conferred the status of observer state on a state that doesn’t exist, and which will never exist if it does not reach an agreement with Israel,” wrote Noah Kliger in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot.
But another columnist in the same paper took a different view.
“The resolution passed by the UN is not anti-Israel. It is only seen as such by Israelis who are opposed to the idea of two states,” wrote Sever Plocker.
“In practice, this could serve as the jumping-off point for pulling the peace process out of the mud ... by setting a new opening point for negotiations: between two nation-states and not between an occupying nation and a national entity living under occupation.”