Britain is considering a change in in its position on the Palestinian bid at the United Nations in an attempt to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' stance, U.K. newspaper Financial Times reported late Monday. London's support is conditioned on continued peace talks with Israel and the PA refraining from bringing cases against Israeli officials to the International Criminal Court, the newspaper said.
The report of the U.K.'s possible change of direction followed reports alleging that Israel is negotiating with the United States over the wording of the proposal at the UN General Assembly Thursday that would upgrade the Palestinians to observer status.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's representative at the talks, Isaac Molho, left for Washington unannounced on Sunday to meet with senior White House and State Department officials.
In recent weeks Israel has declared that it objects to any wording the Palestinians would bring for a vote at the General Assembly. Israel has refused to negotiate over the proposal's wording and has even asked the United States and EU countries not to enter talks on the matter. Rather, it wants them to put pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to postpone the bid.
A senior Israeli official noted that in recent days senior U.S. officials told Netanyahu and his advisers that Abbas is determined to complete the UN process and that they see no way to block a vote. The U.S. administration says it will try to soften the wording, in an attempt at damage limitation.
According to the senior Israeli official, Netanyahu has changed his stance and is supporting the American effort to soften the wording. Molho is working with senior Obama administration officials on changes Israel wants inserted before the assembly votes on the text. But it is unclear enough time remains to graft in the changes.
Israel wants clauses stating that the Palestinians will not ask to be accepted as members of the International Criminal Court in The Hague; membership would let the Palestinians push criminal charges against Israelis. Also, Israel wants a clause stressing that this is a symbolic decision that grants no sovereignty over the West Bank, Gaza Strip or East Jerusalem.
Israel also wants any decision to include a Palestinian commitment to renewing direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions.
According to Monday's Financial Times report, the U.K. has conditioned its support on Abbas guaranteeing that the Palestinians will not use UN observer status to bring cases against Israeli officials to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Britain made it clear to Abbas that it is prepared to vote in favor of the bid. Until a few days ago Britain rejected the Palestinian bid outright, and said that it would not support it.
The British government wants guarantees from Abbas on a number of issues in exchange for its support of the bid:
1. That the Palestinians will not bring cases against Israeli officials to the ICC or other UN agencies. This is something that Israel is concerned about.
2. That the Palestinians will not use UN observer status as a basis for a renewed appeal to the UN Security Council for full membership to the UN.
3. That Abbas will commit to renewing peace talks with Israel without preconditions.
This change in Britain's position comes in the wake of Israel's Gaza offensive, Operation Pillar of Defense, the Financial Times reported.
The British believe that the operation strengthened Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and that the PA needs to be bolstered as a result. British policy has also changed in light of the understanding in the West that there is no way of stopping the Palestinian UN bid, and that ways must be found to minimize damage. The U.S. and Israel have also understood this, and have started taking steps in this direction.
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