x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Netanyahu accused of statehood 'stupidity'

Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima party, fiercely attacked Benjamin Netanyahu over the Palestinians' bid for statehood at the UN, saying his 'diplomatic stupidity' is putting the US into a corner.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is greeted by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at UN headquarters in New York yesterday. Mario Tama / Getty Images / AFP
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is greeted by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at UN headquarters in New York yesterday. Mario Tama / Getty Images / AFP

JERUSALEM // Israel's opposition leader yesterday blasted the prime minister for straining relations with the US over the Palestinian statehood initiative.

Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima party, fiercely attacked Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of the controversial situation.

"The diplomatic stupidity that characterises this government is causing it to put the United States into a corner," Ms Livni said.

She was speaking at a special parliamentary session on the Palestinian UN strategy, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

She used the Palestinian plan to criticise Mr Netanyahu's right-wing, pro-settlement coalition for failing to head off Israel's growing isolation internationally.

Ms Livni also expressed particular concern about fraying ties with the US, which is one of the few countries supporting Israel's opposition to the Palestinians' United Nations statehood initiative.

Despite their support, she said, US officials "don't understand Israel's policy".

"They don't understand why the stubbornness over settlements," she added. "They don't believe the prime minister of Israel when he says 'two states' but doesn't do anything about it.

"I am [a] sceptic but perhaps this week you will succeed in rising above this terrible coalition," Ms Livni said in reference to Mr Netanyahu's expected address at the UN on Friday, in which he will lay out Israel's opposition to the Palestinian bid.

The opposition leader's alarm differed markedly from Mr Netanyahu's confidence on Sunday that the US would prevent a successful Palestinian resolution in the UN's Security Council.

The US has been trying to rally support in the Council to prevent such a measure from coming to a vote.

That would save the administration of Barack Obama, the US president, the embarrassment of having to wield a veto in Israel's favour.

The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, vowed to take the measure to the 15-member Security Council during a speech on Friday.

Eight countries, including Russia, China and India, say they will back the bid but other key Security Council members - such as Britain and Germany - have yet to take a position.

The French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said before meeting Mr Abbas in New York yesterday that the two sides needed to return to direct talks.

"I will ask what is his strategy? Going to the Council of Security and what after that? "We have to avoid such a confrontation. We have to find a balanced solution," Mr Juppe told the Council on Foreign Relations.

He added that he thought the international community had "three or four days" to find such a solution.

The Palestinians are all but assured support for elevated recognition to non-state voting member in the UN General Assembly.

But a US veto of their request for full statehood recognition in the Security Council could inflame the anti-American sentiment in the Arab world.

US and European diplomats have undertaken frantic efforts to reach a last-minute compromise for halting the UN bid and restarting talks.

But those proposals have failed to convince the Palestinians.

This is in part because they have not addressed the key demands of stopping settlement construction and using the borders existing before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war for negotiating the outlines of a future Palestinian state.

US-brokered peace negotiations quickly broke down last September after Mr Netanyahu's government refused to stop building settlements. A seemingly growing chorus of US lawmakers have instead sought punitive measures against the Palestinians, threatening to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in American aid to the Palestinian Authority in response to the UN move.

Fifty-eight Democratic congressmen have threatened cutting aid to the Palestinians.

They said in a letter meant to dissuade European leaders from supporting the statehood bid that the "US will reconsider its assistance programme for the Palestinian Authority and other aspects of US-Palestinian relations if they choose to pursue such a unilateral effort".

Speaking yesterday in New York, Mr Abbas acknowledged the diplomatic stakes that his UN bid has raised in recent weeks.

"We decided to take this step and all hell has broken out against us," he said.


* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press