ROME – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke several days ago on the phone with French President Francois Hollande and asked him to halt the French initiative being promoted by the country's foreign minister Laurent Fabius.
The French initiative incorporates a United Nations Security Council resolution that sets a two-year timetable for achieving a permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which includes a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines and land swaps.
"I told Hollande that I think this move is a negative one and will backfire," Netanyahu told reports after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome. "Such a move is contrary to a peace agreement, it will thwart all future negotiations and bring about an escalation," Netanyahu said. He added: "Hollande listened, and I don't want to say what he said, but I said things very clearly."
Netanyahu held a three-hour meeting with Kerry in Rome, asking the top American diplomat for the U.S. to veto the Palestinian UN bid. However, after the meeting he refused to reveal whether he received assurances on the matter from Kerry.
Earlier on Monday, a senior official in the prime minister's entourage told reporters en route to Rome that "what is at stake now is a resolution at the UN Security Council to try to force Israel to accept the creation of a Palestinian state unilaterally and within a certain time frame." According to the official, "the consistent American policy for the past 47 years has opposed such unilateral steps; there is no reason for that to change, and we expect that it won't change."
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The senior official added that Israel would reject any attempts to dictate unilateral actions. "International support for such a unilateral measure would open the door for Hamas to enter the West Bank," he said. "Such a step could be destructive for Israel and the Palestinians. Demands are being made of Israel without being made of the Palestinians, and that is why we will oppose [such an initiative]."
Kerry's staff, meanwhile, canceled the photo op scheduled to take place at the start of the meeting Monday.
U.S. administration divided
The Obama administration is split over which policy the United States should pursue regarding the Palestinian move toward statehood recognition in the UN Security Council and the French initiative to assemble an alternative proposal.
At a White House meeting last week, Obama's top foreign policy aides were unable to agree on an approach to France's potential resolution, according to a report by the Associated Press.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested steering away from the effort at a time of increased Mideast violence and with the Israeli election a couple of months away, according to a U.S. official familiar with the discussion who spoke to AP.
Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, supported engaging allies to see if a compromise is possible.
Netanyahu told reporters after the meeting with Kerry that Israel will respond to unilateral Palestinian moves – whether they entail a Security Council resolution or joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) or other UN agencies. "We reserve our freedom to act and respond to different situations," he said. "There is no point in me revealing possible responses."
Netanyahu addressed the possibility that the U.S. will veto the Security Council resolution and the Palestinians will realize their threat to sign the Rome Statute in order to join the ICC and press charges against Israel.
The Palestinians may join the ICC even if there is no veto, he said, but they will not be quick to act. "They understand that if they take that step there will be countermeasures," Netanyahu said. "They cannot take lightly the possibility that we will act against them, in a variety of arenas. Two can play in this court. There are many arenas – some direct and some more distant. I am not talking about violent actions."
Netanyahu traveled to Rome in the midst of an election season in Israel, a fact that was manifest, albeit indirectly, at the meeting with Kerry. A few hours before the meeting Kerry's staff canceled the photo op with Netanyahu; the meeting was closed off to the media, there were no statements made to the cameras and only official photographers from both sides took pictures. The Americans wanted to minimize media coverage as much as possible so as to prevent Kerry from becoming a part of the Israeli elections.
Netanyahu did not discuss the elections, either. During the briefing with reporters who traveled to Rome with him he was asked about the Likud tribunal's decision to invalidate the vote to move primaries forward, about the possibility that former IDF general Yoav Galant would join the party, and on the criticism leveled against the prime minister by Tzipi Livni on television. Netanyahu refused to answer.
"I am on a diplomatic mission, so I will not talk about political issues," Netanyahu said. "I will address all of these things – Livni's comments, for example – when I get back to Israel."