Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian people are enjoying sweeping support in the lead up to Thursday night's vote at the UN General Assembly over whether to upgrade the Palestinians' standing to non-member observer status. By Thursday morning Israel time, that support had turned into a full-on landslide, as more European nations decided to alter their positions, essentially leaving Israel to fend for itself.
Early Thursday morning, just hours before the vote -- scheduled to take place around 11:00 P.M. (Israel time) -- Germany changed its mind, deciding to abstain from voting rather than opposing the Palestinian initiative, as Israel had assumed it would.
"The decision wasn't taken lightly," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said. "Germany shares the goal for a Palestinian state. We have campaigned for this in many ways, but the recent decisive steps towards real statehood can only be the result of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians," the German official said.
The UN General Assembly is expected 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. Italian officials announced on Thursday that Italy would also support the bid. In opposing the resolution, Israel is likely to find itself isolated with the United States, Canada, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and possibly the Czech Republic – although sources at the Foreign Ministry said Germany's decision would likely affect the Czech vote as well.
This, in effect, leaves Israel without any European country supporting it at the international forum. Officials in Israel said that Germany's decision was influenced by Britain. "Britain's dramatic reversal prompted the Germans to change their mind," a Foreign Ministry official said. "We lost Europe. More than half of its countries will vote with the Palestinians, and the rest will abstain."
Bulgaria and Romania, with whom Israel has held intensive discussions in the last day, have also backtracked on their positions, as both intend to abstain. Belgium, meanwhile announced Thursday morning that it will vote in favor of the Palestinians. Belgium's foreign minister Didier Reynders said his UN envoy will stress that his country urges the renewal of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Speaking in Jerusalem hours before the vote, Prime Minister Netanyahu said the UN General Assembly's recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state "will not change anything on the ground." Netanyahu denounced the international community and said that, "No matter how many fingers are raised against us, there is no power in the world that can force Israel to compromise on its security."
Netanyahu said the decision will not advance the establishment of a Palestinian state, but rather push it farther away. "Israel's hand is outstretched in peace, but a Palestinian state will not be formed without recognition of Israel as the Jewish state," the prime minister said.
"A Palestinian state will not rise without declaring an end to the conflict and without security arrangements that protect Israel's citizens. None of these issues are mentioned in the UN General Assembly decision. These are just some of the reasons why we are rejecting the proposed resolution."
Netanyahu added: "Peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations without preconditions between the parties, and not through unilateral decisions made at the UN. I suggest we not pay heed to the applause at the UN. I remember when Israel's unilateral disengagement from Gaza received international applause; we got applause and then rockets. Israel withdrew from Gaza and Iran went in. The same exact thing happened when we left Lebanon. As prime minister, I will not allow the growth of another Iranian terror base in Judea and Samaria – the heart of the country – just a kilometer outside of central Jerusalem."