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Arab Israel Conflict
Palestinians push UN deadline on Israel
From the Financial Times of Tue, 16 Dec 2014 14:00:06 GMT

Palestinians are preparing for a confrontation with Israel and the US over a proposal for the UN Security Council to set a two-year deadline for Israel to withdraw from occupied land.

Frustrated at the collapse of peace talks with Israel and the continued construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian leaders are threatening to join the International Criminal Court if the US vetoes the resolution — a move Israeli officials warn would provoke retaliatory action.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, on Monday declared that his country would “stand firm in the face of any diktat”, as he met John Kerry, US secretary of state, in Rome with to discuss the looming diplomatic crisis, among other issues.

Israel and the US oppose any unilateral moves by the Palestinians toward full-fledged statehood that are taken outside the framework of bilateral negotiations.

Mr Kerry did not say whether the US would exercise its veto but although it is widely expected to prevent the passing of any resolution imposing a deadline for resolving the conflict, its reluctance to say it will do so has caused anxiety in Israel.

The Palestinians want to put the resolution, drafted by Jordan with the support of other Arab countries, to a vote at the UN on Wednesday. Mr Kerry was due to meet the Arab League and Palestinian negotiators on Tuesday.

“I hope the Americans will rethink their stand in the Security Council and allow this resolution to stand,” said Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator.

France, a permanent Security Council member, is working with the Palestinians on language that would retain the spirit of the Arab-backed resolution without triggering a US veto — prompting the Palestinians to make good on their warnings to join the ICC.

Joining the criminal court would clear the way for the prosecution of Israel on war crimes charges, but Mr Netanyahu and other officials have warned that the step would provoke retaliatory measures. These could include withholding tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians, on which the Ramallah government’s budget depends.

“Palestinian unilateral steps will be answered by significant steps on the part of Israel on the ground and in the international arena,” Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s far-right foreign minister, warned on Tuesday.

The move at the UN comes against the backdrop of intensifying violence in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Palestinian and European frustration with a two-decade peace process that saw the most recent round of talks collapse in acrimony in April.

Sweden’s centre-left government has recognised Palestine as an independent state, and the parliaments of the UK, Spain, France and Ireland have passed votes urging their governments to do the same, emboldening the Palestinians to pursue their statehood push outside the framework of peace talks. The European Parliament is due to hold a similar vote on Wednesday.

Israel has warned the US and European countries that unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood will make prospects for peace more remote by hardening the Palestinians’ negotiating positions to the point where agreement on core issues such as borders or security is impossible to reach.

Domestic politics in Israel and the West Bank play a role in the confrontation. The Fatah movement of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, was but an onlooker during last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, when Hamas, the territory’s ruling radical Islamist group, adopted the mantle of “resistance” against Israel, earning the approval of some Palestinians in the West Bank.

Palestinians were angered last week when Ziad Abu Ein, a minister in the Palestinian Authority government, died after a violent clash with Israeli troops at a peaceful demonstration in the West Bank. The Palestinian leadership on Sunday said it held Israel “fully responsible for the assassination of the great martyr Ziad Abu Ein”.

This year’s war against Hamas and rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Isis in the region have hardened the Netanyahu government’s already hawkish stance toward the peace process.

Mr Netanyahu this week warned that a military withdrawal to Israel’s pre-1967 borders would bring “Islamic extremists to the suburbs of Tel Aviv and to the heart of Jerusalem”, which he said he would not allow. The question of a future Israeli military presence in an independent Palestine was one of many issues that caused the collapse of the most recent round of peace talks, sponsored by Mr Kerry.

The Israeli prime minister, who has made security issues a hallmark of his three terms in office, faces a challenge from far-right rivals in an upcoming primary of his Likud party, and a national election on March 17.

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