The Israeli government realised last week that the Palestinian bid for upgraded diplomatic status at the United Nations was inevitable and that it would be better not to make a doomed effort to prevent it. While in the past Israel has attacked the bid, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman describing it as “diplomatic terrorism”, there has been a toning down of the rhetoric over the past few days, with virtually no official statements on the subject.
Israeli diplomats have told the Cabinet that, following the wide support Israel received from most of the western nations over the Gaza operation this month, many of these governments were of the view that the Palestinian Authority should now be allowed their diplomatic achievement. There was dismay at the Foreign Minister in Jerusalem when normally friendly governments made it clear that that was their policy. Even pro-Israel Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who planned to oppose the resolution, backed down in the face of a backbencher revolt, and now Australia will abstain.
The United States will vote against but the Obama administration has warned Israel not to punish the Palestinian Authority severely with diplomatic and financial sanctions. The Israeli defence establishment has emphasised that the PA is at one of its weakest points and additional Israeli pressure could force it to the brink of collapse. The last thing Israel needs now is to have to take responsibility for the welfare and civilian affairs of the West Bank Palestinians.
There is also an internal political reason to make as little fuss as possible. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes that if he and his ministers don’t talk about the Palestinians’ diplomatic victory, voters in the election campaign won’t notice that he has been isolated on the international stage.