How Israel lost Europe's support
Following France's lead, one EU country after another changed their votes in favor of the Palestinians.
As the hours wore on Thursday, the magnitude of the Israeli defeat in the United Nations General Assembly became continually clearer. One after another, the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister's Office received reports from Israeli embassies in Europe that countries were changing their votes at the last minute and leaning toward the Palestinians. A few hours before the vote, officials in Jerusalem understood that Israel was left without any Western support except for the United States, Canada and the Czech Republic.
"We lost Europe," said a senior Foreign Ministry official. The erosion of Israeli support and shift to the Palestinians started a few days ago in France. President Francois Hollande's words at a press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris a month ago, in which he expressed doubts about the Palestinian move in the UN, disappeared as if he never spoke them.
Despite previous declarations, France announced that instead of abstaining, it would vote in favor of recognizing Palestine as a non-member state - an observer state without full membership in the United Nations.
Sixteen members of the European Union have announced their support for the Palestinian move: Spain, Cyprus, Portugal, Luxembourg, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Malta, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and Greece all joined France in the past few days. Norway and Switzerland, which are not members of the European Union, also announced their support for the Palestinian request.
The UN General Assembly resolution recognizes Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member observer state. One hundred and thirty eight countries voted in favor of the resolution. Israel suffered a humiliating political defeat and found itself isolated along with the United States, Canada, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and, at best, the Czech Republic and Germany. Britain, which only a few days ago led the attempt to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw his resolution, also changed its position.
The British promised they would abstain or vote against, but changed their stance and notified Israel they are leaning toward supporting the Palestinian request in the vote, if the Palestinians provide the British with a number of guarantees to restart the peace negotiations without any preconditions - as well as a Palestinian promise not to petition the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Israel. Israel hoped the British would not receive such guarantees - and abstain.
But the hardest blow came from Berlin. In Jerusalem, Germany was considered a certainty to vote against the UN resolution, and the German decision not to oppose the Palestinian bid but rather to abstain shocked the top brass at the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister's office. A top German official who took part in discussions in Berlin, however, stressed that the writing was on the wall.
The senior German official, who has requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, told Haaretz that Germany has been trying to help Israel on the Palestinian issue for a long time but Israel has not taken the necessary steps to advance the peace process. "The Israelis," he said, "did not respond in any way to our request to make a gesture on settlements."
Israeli officials were furious with the Germans. "The turnaround in the British position caused the Germans to change their vote since they did not want to remain isolated within the European Union," said a Foreign Ministry official.
Indecisive and confusing Israeli conduct surrounding the Palestinians' move at the UN has angered decision-makers in Germany. The Germans feel they have been taken advantage of, and that Israeli officials have been secretive and uncooperative.
The high-ranking German official said "the resolution" to recognize a Palestinian state "is positive in one sense - it clearly recognizes the two-state solution and the right of existence of the State of Israel."
The German decision to abstain in the UN vote is expected to exacerbate the considerable tension between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has been an issue in recent years, regardless of the current situation. There is a great deal of anger among officials in the Prime Minister's Office over the change in Germany's position, especially since the messages coming from the Germans until yesterday morning indicated it was their intention to vote against the resolution.
A summit meeting between the governments of Israel and Germany is scheduled for next week in Berlin. Presumably the disagreement concerning the vote at the UN will cast a shadow on the discussions. Ever since Netanyahu became prime minister four years ago, his relations with Merkel have been very strained. Numerous times Merkel felt Netanyahu did not keep promises he had made to her, and she was especially angry at the continuation of the construction in the settlements.
Italian officials yesterday stated that Italy will support the Palestinians in their UN bid. Prime Minister Mario Monti called Netanyahu yesterday afternoon to inform him that Italy would also be changing its vote from abstention to support for the Palestinians. Monti explained the decision as an attempt to strengthen Abbas and the vision of two nations for two peoples.
Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt posted on his blog yesterday that Sweden would also vote yes after initially considering abstaining. Belgium likewise announced its support for the Palestinian move.
The German and Italian decisions did not cause the Czech government to change its mind in opposing the Palestinian initiative - making it the only remaining EU member opposing the Palestinian move. Israel has conducted intensive contacts with Bulgaria and Romania in recent days, and the two countries decided to abstain. The Baltic nations Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania also announced they would abstain, as did Hungary and Poland.