x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Israel's UN envoy says Palestinian recognition will not be blocked

Israeli officials have expressed concern about the diplomatic implications of statehood recognition and have carried out an intensive lobbying effort against it.

JERUSALEM // Israel will fail to block the Palestinian bid to win United Nations recognition of statehood next month, the country's envoy to the UN has said.

Only a few countries "will vote against the Palestinian initiative", wrote the envoy, Ron Prosor, in a secret cable last week to Israel's foreign ministry, excerpts of which were published yesterday in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

The most that Israel "can hope to gain is for a group of states who will abstain or be absent during the vote", the newspaper quotes Mr Prosor as saying.

The Palestinians need a simple majority of the UN's 193 member states to receive recognition.

Israeli officials have expressed concern about the diplomatic implications of statehood recognition and have carried out an intensive lobbying effort against it.

The disclosure of Mr Prosor's assessment came days after the US consul general in Jerusalem, Daniel Rubinstein, allegedly warned Palestinian officials that their statehood bid was "useless" and risked costing the Palestinians substantial US financial aid.

Mr Rubinstein issued the warning during a recent meeting in Jericho with Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in talks with Israel, who made public his account of the conversation last week.

"If the Palestinian Authority insists on going to the Security Council, the US will use the veto," Mr Erekat quoted the US official as saying.

Although the Obama administration has publicly voiced its opposition to the statehood bid, Mr Rubinstein made it clear that the US Congress, where Israel enjoys widespread support, would lead the effort to punish the Palestinians, including a cut in US aid, if they did not stand down.

On Saturday, Arlissa Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the US consulate in Jerusalem, disputed Mr Erekat's account of the meeting.

"While we cannot get into private diplomatic discussions, this report is not an accurate portrayal of the US position, nor did [Consular General] Rubinstein make the comments purported in the media", Ms Reynolds said in a statement published by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

She noted that the US president, Barack Obama, has made it clear that "initiatives through the UN will not bring about the two-state solution and enduring peace, which both the parties and the US seek".

Both Israel and the United States have urged the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, to return to US-sponsored peace negotiations. Those talks broke down last year because Israel refused to stop building settlements in the West Bank.

Mr Abbas said on Saturday that he would halt the UN bid if Israel first halted settlement construction and agreed to the borders that prevailed before the 1967 war as a basis for negotiations.

"Without this, we will continue going to the UN," he said.

Those demands appear unlikely to be met, and all expectations are that the Palestinian president will put the statehood measure to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, for consideration on September 20.

Palestinian officials believe they have earned the support of more than enough countries to pass a General Assembly resolution recognising a Palestinian state. While not offering full UN recognition, such an endorsement would upgrade the Palestinians from observer to non-member-state status and provide them with enhanced access to UN institutions.

Last week, Honduras and El Salvador formally recognised Palestine as an independent state and China, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, has said it would vote in favour of Palestinian statehood. Some 120 countries have so far recognised a Palestinian state.

Several key European Union states, including Britain, France and Spain, have not explicitly stated where they stand on the issue.

hnaylor@thenational.ae