Palestinians Set Up Diplomatic 'War Room' Ahead of September Vote on Statehood

Foreign Ministry internal documents reveal PA set up 'war room' to coordinate rallying of international support for September vote.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The Palestinian Authority has a plan for diplomatic counterattack to Israel's efforts to foil recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations General Assembly in September, according to internal Foreign Ministry documents. Ahead of the fateful vote, Israel and the PA are scrambling for every vote, even in the most distant corners of the world.

Until two months ago, the Palestinian leadership believed it was going to score an easy diplomatic victory at the UN. However, the Foreign Ministry's campaign against the Palestinian effort, first reported by Haaretz weeks ago, bore significant fruit and created momentum to counter the Palestinian move - with the United States, Germany, Italy and Canada announcing publicly they would vote against recognition of a Palestinian state in the General Assembly.

Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, Sept. 10, 2010.Credit: AP

As the Middle East Quartet (the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN ) is due to meet in Washington July 11, the Obama administration is continuing its desperate attempts with the two sides to find an alternative to the UN vote in September - but so far has had no success.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to declare that if negotiations with Israel resume on the basis of the 1967 borders with territorial exchanges, he will withdraw the Palestinian bid for statehood through the General Assembly. However, senior officials in Jerusalem say the PA leadership believes there is no chance of resuming the talks and is preparing intensively for the UN vote.

Israeli officials who were informed of the Palestinian plan of action said that the PA set up a diplomatic "war room" to coordinate the rallying of international support for the September vote. The war room is managing diplomatic and media messages and is deciding where to concentrate efforts and which countries will be visited by the Palestinian leadership.

Heading the Palestinian team is Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee. His team includes Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki, the head of the Palestinian negotiating team; Saeb Erekat, who is in charge of Fatah external relations; Nabil Sha'ath; Justice Minister Ali Khashan; and the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour.

Despite the automatic advantage that the Palestinians enjoy at the General Assembly, the Palestinian leadership has been receiving reports from Palestinian envoys and representatives throughout the world that Israeli and American diplomats are aggressively pressuring many countries to oppose the UN vote, or at least to abstain. On the other hand, Israeli ambassadors have reported to the Foreign Ministry that the ambassadors of Arab states, and especially Egypt, are assisting the Palestinians in their diplomatic campaign in Arab capitals.

Last week, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry in Ramallah sent a telegram to the 95 Palestinian missions abroad with instructions to cancel all vacations for July through September. The Palestinian ambassadors were instructed to prepare a daily work schedule of activities vis a vis the decision makers in the states in which they serve to ensure that country votes in favor of recognition of a Palestinian state in September.

"Israel is fighting us on this matter more than the flotilla to Gaza," Nabil Sha'ath told journalists in a briefing. "But this will be one battle that will be very hard for us to lose," he added.

At this stage the Palestinians estimate they have the support of 110 countries, which already recognize a Palestinian state, and who will thus vote in favor in September. The Palestinians would like to rally the support of at least 24 more states before the September vote.

Last weekend, the Palestinian envoys to European Union capitals met in Madrid on ways to rally support in European countries. The PA leadership believes 10 EU countries will announce recognition of a Palestinian state in the coming weeks - Spain and Sweden being the major ones.

These assessments are out of touch with reality, says the Foreign Ministry. Its officials in Jerusalem say that a week ago, the foreign ministers of the 27 EU member states decided that none would announce how it plans to vote until internal EU discussions were finished.

The Palestinians would also like to rally 14 more Latin American and Caribbean states. Israel managed to stop countries like Mexico and Colombia from announcing their recognition of a Palestinian state.

The diplomatic struggle is centering on winning over small countries that on any ordinary day do not enjoy much attention from Israel or the Palestinians. For example, the Foreign Ministry is considering soon inviting the foreign ministers of Caribbean countries like Barbados and Bahamas.

San Marino, a tiny state of 31,000 citizens, was recently visited by the Israeli ambassador to Rome, Gideon Meir, who asked its foreign minister to oppose recognition of a Palestinian state.

Albania, a small Muslim country, which no Israeli foreign minister had visited for 17 years, received Avigdor Lieberman last week. Hours after Lieberman left the capital of Tirana, the Palestinian ambassador delivered a personal message from Mahmoud Abbas, inviting the Albanian prime minister to Ramallah. Albania recognized Palestinian statehood in 1988.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also invested effort in persuading world leaders to not vote in favor of Palestinian statehood at the UN. He set a relatively moderate goal of gaining the backing of 30 states, but it's not certain Israel can meet this goal.

Meanwhile, the two sides are using contrary interpretations of the same arguments: The Palestinians say there is no disunity in their ranks over the move at the UN, while Israel says there is a great deal of opposition, especially on the part of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Israeli diplomats also insist that the Palestinians are becoming increasingly aware that the day after the vote, nothing will have changed on the ground.



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