Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Rome on Monday for an urgent meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, senior officials in Jerusalem said on Wednesday.
The unusual trip, being taken right at the height of the Israeli election campaigns, is aimed at coordinating steps ahead of the United Nations Security Council vote scheduled two weeks from now on the Palestinian proposal calling for an end to Israeli occupation in the West Bank by end of 2016.
Despite intense pressure by the Americans, the Palestinians are determined to push the process through at the Security Council this month.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters at a briefing in Bethlehem on Tuesday that representatives of the Palestinian Authority and of Jordan were in contact with the various members of the Security Council regarding the draft proposal that will be put up for vote. Erekat said he hoped the vote would take place before Christmas Eve, December 24.
In addition to the Palestinian-Jordanian proposal, France, in coordination with Britain and Germany, has also laid out an alternative and more complex draft.
The French draft sets a two-year deadline for reaching a permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and present the presents a list of principles according to which this arrangement can be reached.
One of these principles states that the borders of the Palestinian state must be based on the 1967 lines with land swaps and that Jerusalem must be the capital city of both states.
A senior Israeli official said that Kerry initiated the meeting in Rome, and that the talks were expected to last for a few hours. The American secretary of state is interested in hearing Netanyahu's position on both the Palestinian draft as well as the more complicated European draft. It is not yet clear whether Kerry is intending to present ideas for alternative American steps.
The American administration wants to avoid vetoing a resolution regarding the Palestinians at all costs, due to fears it would harm the coalition with moderate Arab states in fighting the Islamic State (ISIS). At the same time, the pressure the White House has waged on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas not to turn to the UN has failed to bear fruit.
Netanyahu fiercely opposes any initiatives related to the Palestinians at the UN Security Council, but he lacks an alternate strategy. Netanyahu is demanding that the Americans veto any measure that requires a vote – but that veto is far from certain, considering the prime minister's soured ties with President Obama.
The diplomatic crisis at the Security Council comes at a terrible time for Israel, which is headed toward elections. On one hand, Netanyahu and his ministers have limited time to devote to the issue as they are focused on internal affairs.
On the other hand, the dissolution of the coalition and firing of Ministers Livni and Lapid have strengthened the right-wing members of the government – thus harming its ability to garner international support for such a move.
During the press briefing Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat held Tuesday, he addressed the possible American veto, saying that – under such circumstances – the Palestinians would seek membership in 122 UN agencies and international conventions, and would sign the treaty enabling it to join the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
Anyone who imposes a veto is aiding Israel, Erekat said, adding that the world must decide who it is siding with – those who want peace or those trying to destroy the peace.
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