Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Palestinians plot to isolate Israel

An Israeli soldier throws a tear gas grenade during clashes between Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank (AP/Nasser Ishtayeh)

Palestinian leaders are plotting a series of tough steps against Israel to be taken if, as polls predict, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is re-elected and peace efforts remain stalled.

Emboldened by their newly-upgraded status at the United Nations, the Palestinians are talking of filing war crimes charges against the Jewish state, staging mass demonstrations in the West Bank, encouraging the international community to impose sanctions, and ending the security co-operation that has helped preserve quiet in recent years.

These plans, combined with growing international impatience with Israeli settlement construction on occupied land, could spell trouble and international isolation for the Israeli leader.

In a series of interviews, a number of Palestinian officials voiced a similar theme, saying that following the UN General Assembly's recognition of "Palestine" as a non-member observer state in November, the status quo could not continue.

Hussam Zumlot, an official in President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, said next year would "see a new Palestinian political track. There will be new rules in our relationship with Israel and the world".

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down shortly before Mr Netanyahu's election in early 2009 and have remained frozen throughout his term, mostly due to the dispute over Israel's settlement building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Palestinians claim the areas, along with the Gaza Strip, for a future state. Israel captured the areas in the 1967 Six Day War. The Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt settlement construction before negotiations can resume, saying the continued building is a show of bad faith. Mr Netanyahu says talks should resume without pre-conditions and notes that a 10-month partial freeze on settlements he imposed two years ago failed to bring about meaningful negotiations.

Frustrated with the impasse, the Palestinians turned to the United Nations for recognition of an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza. Israel, which withdrew from Gaza in 2005, rejects a return to its 1967 lines. Although the UN vote did not change the situation on the ground, it had deep implications.

Opposed by just nine countries, it amounted to a strong international endorsement of the Palestinian position on future borders. It also cleared the way for them to join international agencies to press their grievances against Israel.

Israel has a number of tools at its disposal, including possible military or economic pressure on the Palestinians. Israel's allies in the West, particularly the US, will also probably shield it from any attempt to impose broad international sanctions, at least in the near term.

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