settlers - AP - September 21 2011
Masked right-wing activists in the West Bank Photo by AP
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Reports that the Palestinians have a majority in the UN Security Council for granting a Palestinian state full UN membership are baseless, sources close to the American delegation to the United Nations said yesterday.

UN sources also predicted that the Palestinian requests for recognition by the Security Council and the General Assembly would be deferred to a later, unspecified time.

Diplomats said yesterday that the United States is in talks with several Security Council member states, and they predicted that the Security Council vote on Palestinian membership will be postponed for several weeks, if it takes place at all. The sources said the United States is dealing with the issue without haste and without a sense of panic.

Among the Security Council members that are thought nearly certain to support the Palestinians' bid for recognition as a state are Russia, China, South Africa, India, Brazil and Lebanon. But diplomats said that in return for U.S. economic aid, Washington will be able to persuade Portugal and Bosnia, and perhaps also Gabon and Nigeria, to withhold support for the Palestinian bid.

Security Council approval is necessary for full UN membership, and the United States is expected to veto any such request. But it has no veto power in the General Assembly, where the Palestinians could be recognized as a nonmember state with observer status, like the Vatican, even absent Security Council support.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe hinted at a delay in the voting yesterday, telling Europe 1 radio that diplomats still hope to head off a crisis and a vote will probably not take place Friday, to give efforts to renew peace talks more time.

If the Palestinians proceed with an application to the Security Council, the United States could refer it for informal consultations that could take weeks or months. Some observers in New York suggested that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is himself interested in deferring a Security Council vote, as he would like more time for diplomatic bargaining with the United States.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry assessment that was distributed to Israeli diplomats yesterday also asserted that Abbas' vow to seek recognition of a Palestinian state from the Security Council is a diplomatic ploy. The report said the announcement is designed to pressure the United States and the European Union, with the goal of getting as much as possible in return for suspending the request altogether or applying only to the General Assembly.

But a senior Foreign Ministry source told Haaretz that Israel fears that if the United States remains isolated in the Security Council and is forced to veto the Palestinian bid, Israel will pay a steep diplomatic price. The source said Israel is operating on the assumption that a Security Council vote is not around the corner, but it is still working hard to get enough support to avoid the need for a U.S. veto.

The Foreign Ministry assessment said that Abbas' determination to go to the Security Council is an effort to reinforce his image as a leader and to buttress support for the legitimacy of his administration. His rejection of any compromise that would head off the Security Council vote, the report continued, is the result of lessons he learned from his handling of the report by the Goldstone Committee, the UN panel that investigated Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza in 2009. Abbas gave in to American and Israeli pressure over this issue and retracted a resolution condemning Israel that had been submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

So far, no UN vote on a Palestinian membership request has been scheduled. The only developments currently scheduled for this Friday are speeches by Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, plus submission of Palestinians' formal application to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Consideration of the request by a Security Council subcommittee could take weeks or even months. If the subcommittee takes too long, the Palestinians are considered likely to ask the General Assembly for nonmember observer status, which would still enable them to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. That is a matter of considerable concern in Jerusalem.

The Israel Defense Forces have prepared for the possibility of disturbances in the West Bank against the backdrop of events in New York, but the IDF's assessment is that the Palestinian Authority's security services will be able to contain the situation within the Palestinian cities they control.

The IDF Central Command has been given various resources with which to monitor the situation, including drone aircraft and hot-air balloons.

The main concern is that confrontations with Palestinian civilians will result in casualties. The IDF will strive to avoid friction that might come about due to hasty decisions by low-level soldiers.

The army is also concerned about so-called "price tag" operations, in which Jewish settlers in the West Bank attack Palestinians in retaliation for developments either in New York or locally. This in turn could spark a sharp response by Palestinians or confrontations between West Bank Arabs and settlers at locations that would be hard to predict.

Confrontations occurred yesterday near the settlement of Yitzhar and in Hebron, but they were deemed minor by the IDF.

The IDF has increased the frequency of its meetings with counterparts in the Palestinian security forces. The army's thinking is that, at least in the coming days, the Palestinians will work to prevent mass rallies scheduled for Palestinian cities from moving beyond the confines of the towns.

Meanwhile, the alert on Israel's border with Egypt remains in place, due to warnings that Islamic Jihad cells and members of the Popular Resistance Committees plan to carry out a terrorist attack via Sinai. There is also high alert on the Gaza border, and three Iron Dome anti-missile batteries remain deployed around Ashkelon, Ashdod and Be'er Sheva.