- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2010

As Israeli and Palestinian negotiators prepare for the first direct negotiations since 2008, the Jewish state is braced for one of the most difficult diplomatic months in its history.

One Israeli diplomat called next month “Black September,” the same name Palestinians used to describe the bloody crackdown against them by Jordan’s King Hussein in 1970, and also the name for the infamous Palestinian terrorist group that killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

The diplomatic calendar from an Israeli perspective for September is filled with political land mines.

To start, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to release a report on the Memorial Day flotilla incident in which nine pro-Palestinian activists aboard a Turkish aid ship seeking to break a blockade of Gaza were killed in a battle with Israeli commandos. Activists in Lebanon have said they are trying to launch another flotilla to challenge the Gaza sea embargo in the coming weeks.

Then the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to issue a follow-up on a report issued in 2009 by Judge Richard Goldstone regarding the Gaza war in late 2008 and early 2009. This report is expected to challenge the credibility of Israel’s investigation of its internal affairs, thus potentially opening up Israel to more formal lawsuits in the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

On top of all of this, Turkey — whose foreign minister said Israel’s raid on the aid flotilla last spring was his country’s Sept. 11 — takes its spot as the rotating chairman of the United Nations Security Council.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency later in September, Arab states are expected to press their case for Israel to publicly acknowledge its undeclared nuclear arsenal.

The diplomatic situation for Israel coincides with the renewal of the peace process that ended in December 2008 when Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against Hamas rocket positions in Gaza.

President Obama will host a dinner Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah.

The direct talks are scheduled to start in earnest on Thursday. Mr. Abbas has said he will break off the talks if Mr. Netanyahu does not renew a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank that is set to expire on Sept. 26.

Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, said one Israeli goal in the talks is to make sure Israel is diplomatically protected from efforts he said would be aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s defense of its territory. Mr. Gold also served as a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Netanyahu in his first term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999.

Israel must be certain that should it withdraw and then find the security situation deteriorating, requiring Israeli military action, that the U.N. does not bring Justice Goldstone out of retirement and launch a whole new series of investigations into how Israel defended itself,” Mr. Gold said. “Hopefully, any new peace arrangements will include a parallel set of understandings to avert this situation.”

P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesman, said in an interview Monday that “it has been extremely difficult to get the parties for a variety of reasons to where we are this week. But now that we are entering direct negotiations, something that we want, the Israelis want, the Palestinians want and other countries in the region want, everyone assumes a responsibility to avoid any actions that can create obstacles to progress. That is something we are telling the parties directly, everyone with a stake in this process has a responsibility to prevent obstacles to progress. The last thing we need right now is another Goldstone-like controversy.”

A senior U.S. official said the Goldstone report issued by the U.N. Human Rights Council “set back the peace process by six to nine months.”

This official noted that he does not expect Turkey to target Israel in the U.N. Security Council. “Turkey has taken some heat for its vote on Iran sanctions. I don’t think Turkey wants to make that hole any deeper,” the official said.

Robert Danin, a longtime foreign service officer who recently left his post as chief of staff to Tony Blair, the representative of what is known as the four-nation Quartet in the region, said efforts to challenge Israel in various diplomatic and international forums was “counterproductive.” The Quartet is made up of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

“These kinds of steps do not engender confidence,” he said.

Israeli officials in the past two years have said that forms of political warfare being waged against the country, such as legal challenges in European courts against Israeli officials regarding the Gaza war, constitute some of the gravest threats to Israel.

In July, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, told reporters that efforts to delegitimize Israel diplomatically and legally posed a greater threat to the country than Iran and international terrorism.

Moshe Ya’alon, a former Israeli general and minister for strategic affairs, has made the issue of delegitimation a priority for Israel’s national security council.

Some observers say Israel’s participation in a credible peace process will help mitigate some of the diplomatic dangers.

“Being part of the negotiation process will help protect Israel from some of these efforts. It’s hard for the most anti-Israel forces to credibly continue with their rhetoric when Israel is engaged in a credible peace process,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine.

Mr. Gold, however, is skeptical that a peace process will shield Israel at the United Nations.

“There is no correlation between advancing the peace process and the assault on Israel in the main bodies of the United Nations,” he said. “In fact, just to set the record, three months and one day after the Oslo Accords were signed on Sept. 13, 1993, a whole new series of anti-Israel resolutions were launched in the U.N. General Assembly.”

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