The UN General Assembly is expected on Thursday to pass a historic resolution recognizing Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member observer state.
At least 150 countries are expected to vote in favor of the resolution. Israel will suffer a humiliating political defeat and find itself isolated along with the United States, Canada, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and, at best, Germany and the Czech Republic.
As the vote approaches, more and more Western democracies are announcing that they will vote in favor of the resolution. "The situation is very serious. We are going to get hit and be almost completely alone," a senior Foreign Ministry official said.
Eleven members of the European Union have announced their support for the Palestinian move: France, Spain, Cyprus, Portugal, Luxembourg, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Malta, Ireland and Greece. Norway and Switzerland, which are not members of the EU, have also declared their support.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament on Wednesday that Britain tended to support the Palestinian bid. But it needed public commitments that the Palestinian Authority would not take advantage of the resolution to act against Israel in the international court in The Hague and that it would commit to immediately renewing peace talks without preconditions.
A source at the Foreign Ministry said Britain had not yet received such assurances but was continuing talks with the Palestinians. The Foreign Ministry believes that if the Palestinians provide the assurances the British are demanding, at least 20 EU countries will vote for the resolution. Germany and the Czech Republic, which had announced they would vote against the move, would then abstain instead.
Meanwhile, the United States is opposing the Palestinian move to the last minute. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Middle East Special Envoy David Hale met yesterday with PA President Mahmoud Abbas at his hotel in New York; they told him of the U.S. opposition and asked him to reconsider.
The General Assembly vote, which will be broadcast live around the globe, is expected to be an unprecedented achievement for the PA and Abbas. In contrast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are said to understand that the Palestinian victory at the United Nations means an Israeli defeat and a personal defeat for each of them.
The significance of the outcome has not been lost on Jerusalem. While the ruling party in Israel is moving to the right, the international community, including Israel's friends, is moving to the left. They are no longer willing to accept Israel's occupation of the West Bank.
No Israeli leader wants this failure to stick to him. Netanyahu has released no official statement on the matter. Lieberman and Barak, who, ironically, will be in New York today on their way to the Saban Forum in Washington, will duck the cameras. Lieberman prefers not to speak to the General Assembly and has left it to UN ambassador Ron Prosor to face the music alone.
The Foreign Ministry has almost completely ended its efforts to persuade countries to vote against the decision. It has focused on encouraging as many countries as possible to issue statements stressing that the move is merely symbolic and that permanent borders and other issues can only be decided in direct negotiations with Israel.
Now Netanyahu and Lieberman can only do damage control, particularly political damage as far as their voters are concerned, and try to cover up their failures in dealing with the Palestinian issue over the past four years.
The way to do this is by stressing that the Palestinian move is merely technical. A senior Israeli official told a press briefing yesterday that Israel believes the resolution "lacks all significance; only the Security Council can establish a real country."
"This evening there will be a celebration in Ramallah, but on Friday morning there will be no change on the ground," the official said. Only the Security Council can accept a state as a full member of the United Nations.
But exactly 65 years ago, on November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181, which approved the partition of British Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. That night, thousands of Jews took to the streets in celebration. But the next morning, the British Mandate was still there.
Still, the situation did change the next day. Attacks and violence between the local Jews and Arabs.
Beyond international recognition of the Jewish right to a state, the UN resolution launched a process that six months later culminated in the declaration of statehood by Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. The Security Council accepted Israel as a full member of the international body only a year later, in May 1949.
For the Palestinians, Thursday's vote is another step on the road to independence. The diplomatic impasse, the radicalization in Likud and the fact the right is expected to form Israel's next government do not bode well for the peace process. Israelis may only hope that unlike November 29, 1947, the conflict will remain on the diplomatic front and not deteriorate into a third intifada.
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