Ronen Medzini
May 26, 2011 - 12:00am,7340,L-4074239,00.html

The Foreign Ministry is focusing efforts on trying to block the Palestinian plan to win UN recognition for an independent state in September. Israel's chance of winning a majority among the 192 UN members state is miniscule, as the 116 states comprising the Non-Aligned movement tend to vote together and are likely to vote in favor of a Palestinian state.

It is estimated that the large majority of non-Western nations among the remaining 76 states will also vote in favor of the Palestinian bid, which leaves Israel with a little over 40 states whose vote is still open.

The Foreign Ministry is currently fighting to win support among those states and is targeting the European Union in particular. "The battle isn’t for the majority but for legitimacy," a state official said. "It always comes back down to Europe."

Despite their small electoral power, European states have enormous influence in the international area. The Foreign Ministry is focusing on getting the support of five states: Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain.

Israel has already struck two important diplomatic achievements on this score: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have announced they will oppose unilateral recognition of Palestine. France and Britain have yet to make their stand on the issue. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Paris and London earlier this month in an effort to get their support.

Spain's stance is even more ambiguous. On the one hand, Madrid has close ties with Latin America which started the wave of recognition, which may affect its vote. However, state officials believe Spain will not break from the other four major European powers should they present a united front. "There is no doubt that opposition from the major states to unilateral steps will affect other countries," a senior official at the Foreign Ministry said.

"The name of the game is to divide the European Union and get as many supporting states," another official said. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is currently attending an OECD conference in Paris and is slated to meet Slovenian and South Korean leaders as well as his counterparts in France, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Estonia.

Mediterranean alliance?

Europe, it seems, is already divided when it comes to reconciliation of Palestine. On the one hand, such friendly states as the Czech Republic and Holland are not expected to support Palestine and the Foreign Ministry is working to make them vote against the bid instead of abstaining.

On the other hand, countries such as Portugal, Ireland, Luxemburg and Sweden are slated to support the imitative and Israel is not able to affect their decision. It does, however have a chance with the remaining states.

"Most of the central European states already have Palestinian missions since 1988," a Foreign Ministry official said. "Nevertheless, the geopolitical situation was different during the 1980s in light of the Cold War and before the Oslo Accords. We hope they will have a hard time supporting a Palestinian state, though they recognized it in the past."

Also of interest is an alliance forming between Israel and several Mediterranean states including Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, Malta and Cyprus. The countries convened last month but the meeting's content remains confidential. FM Lieberman represented Israel in the conference which discussed shared issues such as immigration, separation fences, refugees, natural gas and economic cooperation, in the backdrop of the political situation in Egypt and Libya.

"Everyone is talking about losing Turkey but that's not the critical mass of the region's interests," one official said. Lieberman is scheduled to visit Albania in two weeks, most likely in connection to the forming alliance. Israel's foreign policy will be tested on how these countries vote come September.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry is using Israel's missions in Europe to present the consequences of a unilateral Palestinian declaration.

"We're going through every state and bloc to explain ourselves," one official said. "We are doing the best we can to issue press articles and illustrate the important issues. For example, we’re explaining to the EU, which endorsed the Oslo Accords, that the Palestinians' unilateral steps are illegal."


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017