- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2011

Israel’s deputy foreign minister is predicting that as many as 70 countries will not vote for a U.N. resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood.

“We believe — I believe — that we could look into a group of 50 countries which will not support [the resolution]. It’ll be at least 50. Between 50 and 70,” Danny Ayalon said in an interview with The Washington Times.

The resolution, which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plans to submit to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, will meet a promised U.S. veto in the Security Council. However, the Palestinians are expected to receive an overwhelming majority in the General Assembly, where they enjoy the near-unanimous support of the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement.

In Jerusalem on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predicted the Palestinian bid for recognition will fail because his government is “working closely” with the United States and other governments to derail the move.

“Their attempt to be accepted as a member of the United Nations will fail,” he told a Cabinet meeting.

Mr. Netanyahu is due to meet with President Obama this week at the United Nations.

In Washington, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now a Middle East peace negotiator, discussed diplomatic efforts to persuade the Palestinians to drop their bid.

“Let’s see if we can craft something that allows the Palestinians to come to the United Nations, to advance their aspirations for statehood that also, as the same time, allows us to develop a framework for negotiations so that they can get back to talking,” he told ABC News.

Mr. Ayalon and other Israeli officials are counting on what they called a “moral majority” primarily of Western democracies that will either vote against the resolution, abstain or not participate in the vote.

“This is the group that counts,” Mr. Ayalon said. “Western democracies count because of their special weight on the international scene — not just political weight and moral weight, which is very important, but also financial weight.

“The Palestinians get most of their money, not from the Muslim and Arab countries, but from Europe and the United States, so there is a leverage here that should be used in a responsible way.”

Mr. Ayalon said Israel is targeting countries in Africa, Latin America and even the Carribean. However he acknowledged that the primary battleground — and the greatest prize — is the European Union.

“A lot will be dependent on the Europeans,” he said. “Many countries are waiting to see how Europe will vote.”

The 27-member European bloc has struggled to forge a unified position on the Palestinian resolution, the text of which has yet to be finalized. Israeli diplomats in Jerusalem and New York believe the Palestinians are unlikely to obtain an EU majority, even if the bloc splinters.

If the EU fails to agree on a position, Israeli officials expect that Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and most former Soviet bloc countries will oppose the resolution or abstain from the vote. They expect most of the Scandinavian countries and other historically pro-Palestinian nations like Ireland and Belgium will favor it. Britain and France are seen as swing votes, though Israel has become increasingly pessimistic about the French.

Beyond Europe, Israel is banking on ‘no’ votes from Canada and Australia and abstentions from Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Colombia.

Israeli officials believe the final vote will resemble the 2009 vote endorsing the “Goldstone Report,” a U.N. document that accused Israel of systematic war crimes in its 2008-09 war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. One hundred fourteen countries voted for that resolution, 18 voted against, 44 abstained and 16 were absent.

Mr. Ayalon said a unified position by Western democracies could head off the Palestinians’ move.

“The Palestinians will think long and hard about whether to go forward because — it could be really embarrassing for them to get their resolution [passed] only on the numbers of Islamic and Non-Aligned [Movement] votes,” he said.

On Sunday, Hamas — the Islamist militant that controls the Gaza Strip and seeks the destruction of Israel — reiterated its opposition to the U.N. bid, saying that it was “an extension of the negotiations [with Israel].” The Palestinians’ West Bank leadership walked out of short-lived U.S.-sponsored negotiations last year after Israel let a 10-month settlement-construction moratorium lapse.

Mr. Ayalon said that it is “time to tell the Palestinians that they cannot just act as spoiled brats and avoid negotiations.”

He argued that by appealing to the U.N., the Palestinians were “slamming the door shut on negotiations and on the agreements [we have] with them so far” and “choosing conflict and confrontation over negotiations and reconciliation.”

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