Israel may step up settlement building to punish Palestinian UN bid

Palestinian women look at buildings, destroyed by Israeli bulldozers, that were built illegally without a permit in the southern area of Yatta village, south the West Bank town of Hebron, on November 6, 2012. Demolition of Palestinian properties and Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues in stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. (Photo: AFP - Hazem Bader)

Published Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Senior Israeli officials say they may step-up settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories, if the Palestinian Authority (PA) moves ahead with their United Nations bid for an upgrade to a non-member state this November, Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Wednesday.

This Monday, nine Israeli ministers met to discuss a list of proposed sanctions aimed at pressuring the Palestinian Authority from campaigning for a UN partial statehood bid set to take place this month.

During the meeting, the Foreign ministry presented a 'tool kit' of possible, retaliatory, Israeli actions, starting with “relatively gentler” moves such as restricting movement via the confiscation of VIP cards from Palestinian officials, or the cancellation of Palestinian workers' permits, in Israel, Haaretz reported.

According to the article, 'harsher' retaliatory possibilities included canceling economic agreements between the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis, and the declaration of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as 'irrelevant'.

Palestinians have launched a watered-down bid for recognition as a non-member "observer state" -- the same status given to the Vatican--after the US frustrated attempts at full statehood by wielding its veto at the UN Security Council last year. The "observer state" status needs only to secure a majority vote at the UN General Assembly where it enjoys overwhelming support.

Palestinians see the upgrade as a confirmation of international recognition of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders. They say this will serve as a reference point in future peace talks.

The vote is set to be called on Nov. 15 or 29. The Palestinians need a simple majority for the upgrade, and predict that between 150 and 170 of the 193 member nations will vote in favor.

Israel has appears to have not made a final decision on the proposed punitive measures.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry officials and Israeli diplomats abroad have been warning of a scenario in which the Israeli government "goes crazy" the day after the UN vote, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported Saturday.

The newspaper said Israeli diplomats have launched an intensive diplomatic campaign against the move, which comes months before Israeli elections.

"This is liable to lead ministers and Knesset members to vie with each other over who can offer a tougher response," Haaretz explained, citing Foreign Ministry sources.

They say delaying the vote by a few months would prevent a possible disaster.

The US could "freeze all or some of the funding for the Palestinian National Authority ... put pressure on other governments to discourage them from providing support and/or reduce their aid to Palestine," he warned.\

In October, a secret memo was revealed from Washington warning European countries not to support the PA's bid. The memo asked Europeans “to support [American] efforts” to block the bid and warned of “significant negative consequences” for the PA if the bid were to go through.

Since last year's campaign, the US has withheld $192 million in economic assistance to the cash-strapped, aid-dependent Palestinian Authority and stopped funding the UN cultural body UNESCO after it admitted Palestine as a member. US finances made up around 22 percent of the group's funds.

Economic anxiety is on the rise in the West Bank following US sanctions and an aid shortfall from rich Gulf states last year, leading to delayed public sector salaries and fuel price hikes which provoked violent street demonstrations last month.

Crippled negotiations

President Abbas said Wednesday that he would be ready for negotiations with Israel "straightaway" if the UN recognized Palestine as a non-member state.

"We have resolved to go to the UN to save the two-state solution and to achieve the rights of our people as an observer state," Abbas told reporters.

"We're ready to go back to negotiations straightaway. Going to the UN is not a substitute for negotiations. We are in need of negotiations to solve the final status of issues that face us both."

Abbas pledged to restart the talks, stalled since 2010 over settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, "straightaway", inferring he would drop a Palestinian precondition for a halt to the building work.

Later on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Reuters that he requested a resumption of Peace talks, asking Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to 'not make any unilateral moves', Haaretz reported in what is widely seen as a reference to the statehood bid.

“I hope they won't go to one-sided action in the UN because that will only push peace back and will only produce unnecessary instability," he said.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Israeli authorities issued unilateral eviction orders to 40 families in a Nablus village, a Palestinian official said.

(Ma'an, Al-Akhbar)

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