Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer declared Sunday that Israel's very existence depended on the renewal of Middle East negotiations, warning ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting that the Palestinians could garner world-wide support for statehood before a peace deal was reached.
"We must do everything possible to get to dialogue with the Palestinians, even if it costs us a settlement freeze for a few months," Ben-Eliezer said at the start of the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. "I wouldn't be surprised if within one year the whole world supports a Palestinian state, including the United States. Then we'll ask where we were and what we were doing."
Five Latin American countries have already recognized Palestinian statehood, amid the West Bank authority's bid to declare independence unilaterally. The European Union has staved off Palestinian pressure in favor of waiting until the "appropriate" time, while the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution this month saying only peace talks could set such a process in motion.
Israel and the Palestinians relaunched direct negotiations in September after months of deadlock, but those talks faltered within a month after a 10-month freeze on West Bank settlement construction expired.
The Palestinians have reiterated that they will not return to the negotiating table until a freeze is renewed, but U.S. efforts to coax Israel into such a move has failed. The U.S. is now focused on re-establishing indirect contacts.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has circulated a draft resolution to the members of the United Nations Security Council condemning Israeli construction in the settlements.
The draft drew U.S. condemnation, with a senior Obama administration official telling Haaretz: "Final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties, not by recourse to the UN Security Council."
"We, therefore, consistently oppose any attempt to take final status issues to the council as such efforts do not move us closer to our goal of two states living side by side in peace and security," he added.
The document, which the PA formulated together with Arab countries and a copy of which Haaretz has obtained, states that Israeli actions in constructing settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and are the main obstacle to peace on the basis of a two-state solution.
Israel's Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister's Bureau have been holding talks with members of the Security Council, particularly the United States, France and Britain, in an attempt to thwart the resolution.
The Israeli mission to the United Nations and the Israeli Embassy in Washington held talks with senior State Department officials and with the American mission to the United Nations, to ascertain whether the United States intends to veto the resolution.
Since President Jimmy Carter's term in office in the 1980s, no U.S. administration has supported a Security Council resolution that stated that the settlements are illegal. The traditional U.S. position since Carter's days has been that the settlements are an obstacle to peace. The Americans have made clear to Israeli diplomats that they oppose the Palestinian circulation of the draft resolution to the members of the Security Council, but they did not state clearly that they would veto it.
In contrast to similar cases, the draft resolution distributed by the Palestinians this time is relatively moderate, avoiding extreme anti-Israeli language. The Americans may therefore find themselves isolated in the UN if they decide to veto the resolution, and they may find it difficult to do so.
Other members of the Security Council, particularly Russia, China, Britain and France, tend to support the Palestinian draft resolution. The Palestinians reportedly intend to call for a meeting of the Security Council to vote on the resolution only in January, after the holidays, when Bosnia and Herzegovina replace the United States as president of the council.
The draft, which was formulated on December 20, also stated that the Security Council condemns all actions by Israel to change the demographic component, character and status of the territories, which is says contravenes international law.
The document also mentions that the 2003 road map calls on Israel to stop all construction in the settlements, including for purposes of natural growth, and to dismantle illegal outposts built after 2001.
Meanwhile, U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network that the administration in Washington will not cease its involvement in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians because American abandonment of the process could lead to an outbreak of violence. "I think that any president would not simply stand by and let a conflict erupt because it would not be in our interest," Mitchell said.
The envoy added: "One of the reasons we are involved there is because it is within the strategic interests and national interests of the United States that the conflict be resolved. I do think that we have to stay involved because our interest is at stake, and a principal point is that an eruption of violence or some other negative act could occur at any time with unforeseeable consequences."
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