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Israel to Fight PA's UN Bid, Debate What to Do Next

The Foreign Ministry is already working on a strategy for the day after the PA's “observer state” status vote set for Thursday at the UNGA.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 11/27/2012, 2:43 AM

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas
Flash 90

The Foreign Ministry is already working on its strategy for the day after the Palestinian Authority submits its bid for “observer state” status to a vote on Thursday at the United Nations General Assembly. The 193-member world body is expected to approve the revised draft resolution circulated Monday by the PA.

If approved, the resolution would “accord to Palestine Non-member Observer State status in the United Nations, without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United Nations as the representative of the Palestinian people.”

Most of those voting are historically supportive of the entity led by the Fatah faction, based in the PA capital of Ramallah – and unlike last year, Gaza's ruling Hamas terrorist organization has vowed this time to support PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The PA chairman is also the leader of Fatah, as well as the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the umbrella organization that represents PA Arabs to the United Nations. Hamas is not a member of the PLO.

Should the resolution pass, the PA will achieve de facto status as a sovereign state and effectively circumvent the final status negotiations with Israel that are mandated in the internationally-recognized Oslo Accords. Moreover, the PA, at present considered an “observer entity” at the U.N., would also be granted access to the International Criminal Court at The Hague and other similar bodies with the new status.

That being said, the United States has already warned Abbas that the Congress may yank funding to the PA in response to the vote – and funding to some U.N. programs may be jeopardized as well. Israel has said it may cancel the 1994 Paris Protocol, an economic cooperation agreement that was part of the Oslo Accords. The agreement includes Israeli tax collection and remittance to the PA, coordination of VAT rates and other indirect tax rates, continued access of PA Arab labor to the Israeli labor market through a regulated system of permits, and measures to promote private sector development that include that development of financial institutions. Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said flatly that he believes Abbas should be toppled if the United Nations approves membership for the PA. 

The ministry has been discussing diplomatic strategies to be used in recruiting as many friendly nations as possible to fight the bid. There are very few who are willing, however: Those who are sure to oppose the bid include only the United States, Canada, Czech and possibly Germany, in addition to Israel herself. Thus far, at least 12 and possibly 15 countries are expected to vote in favor of the PA. They include Sweden, Belgium, Spain, Malta, Ireland, Portugal, Luxembourg and possibly France, with Britain and Italy still undecided. At present, 130 to 150 member states are expected to vote in favor of PA membership as an observer state.

"Though this would be a decision with a strictly symbolic meaning, it would be a unilateral move that would break all the rules,” said an official in the Prime Minister's Office. “If the Palestinians break the rules then Israel can too.” However, there is some disagreement within the top echelon as to how Israel should respond to the vote, with concern that Abbas will file a lawsuit against Israel in the International Criminal Court at The Hague, should the bid succeed.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon and others have said Abbas should not be perceived as a hostile entity until he actually behaves as one – that is, until the vote is passed, and he actually follows up by filing a lawsuit against Israel in the international court. At that point, government officials said, it would be appropriate to work towards toppling the Abbas administration, according to the Hebrew daily newspaper Yediot Achronot. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said he supports freezing transfer of tax funds to the Palestinian Authority, should the U.N. approve a resolution granting “observer state” status for the PA.